Will Inky publisher Bob Hall end up being the star witness in a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice’s lawsuit against his paper?
That appears to be the strategy mounted by Dion Rassias, the Philadelphia attorney representing Justice Seamus McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rappaport. The two are suing the Inquirer over a March 4, 2013, story that depicted how Rappaport earned lucrative referral fees from firms that later had cases before McCaffery’s court — a story that prompted an FBI inquiry and changes to ethics rules at the court.
Rassias on Friday filed an amended complaint in the case — this time including an email from Hall to Inquirer editor Bill Marimow sent the same morning the original McCaffery story ran. Rassias had referenced the email in previous filings in the case; Friday’s filing is the first in which he quoted the email directly and in full:
The text of the email from Hall to Marimow:
I will tell you I am disappointed in the story. Placed on front page? We do not say the fees are routine and proper (although we know they are) but quote there [sic] attorney (which both of us knows what that sounds like to the reader). That was the statement you and I talked about yesterday to be sure we told readers. And we even state how the cases turned out to make it appear improper. They only drew scrutiny after we raised the issue and a lot depends on how we asked the question.
When we know that we have a delicate situation, we should have been overly sure that the story would be read fairly.
I will call you late this afternoon.”
“Clearly, even the publisher of The Inquirer knew that the article was a smear piece, journalistic rubbish, and should never have run in the first place as written,” Rassias wrote in the amended complaint.
Hall later fired Marimow, setting off the ownership struggle that will culminate in next Tuesday’s auction of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com
Marimow did not immediately respond to a Philly Mag inquiry for comment. He has previously stated: “The Inquirer’s stories were accurate, thorough and fair, and examined an important issue in the administration of justice in Pennsylvania.”
Rassias filed the suit in March. On Friday, he repeated assertions made in previous court filings: That McCaffery was innocent of unethical and illegal conduct. He added that McCaffery properly disclosed the fees.
The defendants in the case are Interstate General Media, the Inquirer’s parent company; Marimow; reporter Craig McCoy; and Daily News editor and editorial cartoonist Michael Days and Signe Wilkinson, respectively, for an editorial cartoon that commented on the story. Intertrust GCN, a company that holds a minority ownership in the papers on behalf of Lewis Katz, has been dropped as a defendant in the case.
Rassias is seeking unspecified “compensatory damages, punitive damages, (and) delay damages” from the defendants.
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