Lawsuit: McCaffery Lawyer Decries “Smear Campaign” by Inky

Lawsuit filing suggests ownership fight helped provide basis for lawsuit. Inquirer editor defends paper, reporting.

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Inquirer editor Bill Marimow (left, AP photo by Joseph Kaczmarek); Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery (right)

Philadelphia Inquirer editor Bill Marimow used the paper to conduct a “smear campaign” against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and his wife, McCaffery’s lawyer said Tuesday in the official civil complaint filed against the paper.

Dion Rassias opened his blisteringly worded 60-page broadside (in full below) against the Inquirer and Daily News — alleging they defamed McCaffery and his wife, and cast them in a false light — with an attack on their shared ownership, Interstate General Media.

“Philadelphia is unfortunately a one-horse media town because both major daily newspapers are owned by the same entities; that means that the Defendants can write whatever they want, whenever they want to, and their publications can only be held in check by the legal system,” Rassias wrote. “This case is all about media accountability for publishing smear pieces.”

But on Wednesday, Marimow defended the paper and its reporting. “The Inquirer’s stories were accurate, thorough and fair and examined an important issue in the administration of justice in Pennsylvania,” he said in an email to Philadelphia magazine.

The case, though, is also about the Inquirer’s fractured ownership and administration: In the complaint, Rassias quotes from the November trial that restored Marimow to his job at the Inquirer after his earlier firing by publisher Bob Hall. Questioning at the trial suggested Hall thought the initial March 2013 story — reporting that Rapaport, McCaffery’s wife and chief judicial aide, received fees for steering cases to personal injury firms — was unworthy of its front-page placement. The story quoted legal experts questioning the propriety of the arrangements, and eventually prompted both rules changes at the court and an FBI investigation of McCaffery.

Rassias wrote:

In fact, The Inquirer’s March article was so heinous, untrue and savage in its portrayal of the Plaintiffs that even the publisher of the newspaper, Robert J. Hall, had to admit under oath that he was so appalled by the story, and the lengths The Inquirer had gone to in order to “make Justice McCaffery and his wife look bad,” he called Defendant Marimow — the newspaper’s editor — and expressed deep concern over the placement of the article, and specifically told Defendant Marimow that such a piece “should not have been on page one.” He also told Defendant Marimow that the story was “seriously flawed because it implied that Justice McCaffery and his wife Lise Rapaport had done something wrong.”

Remarkably, publisher Robert Hall was so concerned over the placement of this article that was maliciously designed to “make Justice McCaffery and his wife look bad” that he even sent a follow-up email to Defendant Marimow on March 4, 2013, exclaiming how “disappointed” he was with the story and how “distressed” he was that it was put on the front page of the Sunday paper.

Rassias had filed notice of the lawsuit earlier this month; Tuesday’s filing was the first to detail his client’s complaints about the Inquirer stories.

Rassias repeated assertions made in previous court filings: That McCaffery was innocent of unethical and illegal conduct; and that Rapaport properly and legally received one particularly large fee — $821,000 — for a referral made when she was on leave from the court, managing an election campaign for McCaffery. He added that McCaffery properly disclosed the fees.

Indeed, the third paragraph of the original Inky story said the fees were listed in McCaffery’s state-mandated financial disclosure forms; the story added, however, that on 11 occasions McCaffery had ruled on cases involving firms that had made referral fees — voting eight times in favor of the firm that had made the payment — and said: “Lawyers in the cases say the justice never disclosed the fees.” Rassias says McCaffery made every disclosure required by the law

While the case includes a number of defendants — including the Daily News and its political cartoonist, Signe Wilkinson, for a cartoon satirizing McCaffery and Rapaport— Rassias singled out Marimow for particular criticism, saying the Inquirer editor “had an extremely close personal friendship and business relationship with individuals whose interests and motivations were completely adverse to Plaintiff McCaffery,” relationships “he deliberately kept … a secret from the general public.”

In printing the story about McCaffery, Rassias said, Marimow aimed to advance “the several agendas of his friends and his personal counsel.” Rassias did not, however, detail who those friends might be, their agendas, or how they might have influenced Marimow’s decision-making.

Rassias is seeking unspecified “compensatory damages, punitive damages, (and) delay damages” from the defendants.

Mark Block, a spokesman for Inquirer parent company Interstate General Media, was not immediately available for comment.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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