The Inquirer may have the right to report on the actions of public officials, an attorney says in filings against the newspaper, but it doesn’t have the right to mislead readers into believing an official has done something wrong.
Dion Rassias, the attorney for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and McCaffery’s wife, Lise Rapaport, made the argument this week in his latest filings against the newspaper over its 2013 story about referral fees Rapaport earned from law firms that later came before her husband on the bench.
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The Inquirer has struck back against a lawsuit from Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery, defending the accuracy of its reporting — and its right to report on matters involving the state’s public officials.
McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, sued the Inquirer in March, a year after a front-page article by investigative reporter Craig McCoy detailed how Rapaport — who also served from time-to-time as McCaffery’s chief judicial aide — had received hefty case referral fees from firms that later appeared before McCaffery and the state court. The fees were legal and disclosed in McCaffery’s official disclosure forms. Nonetheless, the articles produced an FBI investigation and the overhaul of some ethics rules at the court.
But McCaffery and his wife did nothing illegal or unethical, their lawyer said in his initial filings against the paper.
Late Thursday afternoon, an attorney for McCoy and Inky editor Bill Marimow responded that they had reported — and let the readers decide. McCaffery, they said, had shown no evidence that any element of the reported stories were false.
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Robert Hall. AP Photo | Matt Rourke
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:
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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.
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A defense lawyer in Seamus McCaffery’s lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer is asking that every judge in Philadelphia be recused from the case.
Richard Sprague, lawyer for Intertrust GCN, a company owned by Inky co-owner Lewis Katz, filed the motion Friday (below). In it, he notes that McCaffery — now a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — was previously a judge in the First Judicial District that Philadelphia, between 1993 and 2003, and has since participated in judicial reform efforts here. McCaffery’s brother, Daniel, is currently a judge in the district.
Sprague cited other ties between McCaffery, his wife, and the Philadelphia courts — ties, he said, that would undermine public confidence unless the case were assigned to a judge from outside the county.
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Photo | Jeff Fusco
At this point, there’s probably no journalist in Philadelphia you’d want to trade places with less than Nancy Phillips. Trouble just seems to follow her around these days.
Phillips (below), the city editor of the Inquirer, is also — somewhat famously — the companion of Lewis Katz, one of the paper’s feuding co-owners. In her role as city editor, she has also been involved in delivering job evaluations to many of the paper’s journalists. Given that most of those journalists have never before been given a job evaluation until this year, the task was bound to be touchy even in the best of times.
These are not the best of times at the paper. And so Phillips finds herself, once again, at the center of controversy.
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BigTrial.net’s Ralph Cipriano has an intriguing scoop on what we over here at Philly Mag like to call the Inky Mess. When Bill Marimow returned to the Inquirer last week, he got a standing ovation. Reportedly, it wasn’t exactly spontaneous.
In a Dec. 7th email to Chris Bonanducci, vice president of human resources, Bill Ross, the Guild’s executive director, wrote, “when Bill Marimow’s return to the newsroom was announced, [Inquirer City Editor] Nancy Phillips went around the newsroom telling employees to give him a standing ovation.””Some members were uncomfortable with this request, which of course seemed like an order when asked by the city editor,” Ross wrote. “Others have asked about her credibility after she admitted concocting a cover story about Marimow’s rehire during her testimony in the recent court case.”
Jay Devine, the PR man representing Marimow, showed his disdain for Cipriano’s reporting–where else?–in the comments section. “We chose not to respond to your inquiry today based on our belief that your blog has consistently reported biased, one-sided and defamatory information. It is not a credible journalistic entity that subscribes to the principles of quality, fair and unbiased journalism. — Jay Devine.”
In a move that has deep ramifications for Philadelphia’s entire media ecosystem, George Norcross III has become the majority owner of the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com.
Norcross is expected to announce his purchase of tech industry titan Kris Singh‘s shares in Philadelphia’s largest news organization later this afternoon. The move, which doubles Norcross’s holdings, figures to have massive implications for the ongoing battle for control of the papers between Norcross and Lewis Katz.
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This just in from the Philadelphia Newspaper Wars: The majority owners, led by George Norcross, announced this afternoon they are filing appeal of Friday’s decision restoring Bill Marimow to the editor’s seat at The Inquirer.
USA Today’s Rem Rieder, meanwhile, has an overview of the Philadelphia Newspaper War now that Bill Marimow has been restored to the Job That He Can’t Be Fully Fired From as editor of the Inquirer. (Seriously: Marimow is now the Inky’s version of Billy Martin. Has there ever been another newspaper career like this?)
The Katz/Marimow camp is said to be considering the possibility of going to court to dissolve the ownership agreement on the grounds that there is an insurmountable impasse. (Ya think?) The idea would be to have the company put up for sale. If it ended up with the papers, the group is thinking about converting the company into a non-profit.
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When Michael Lorenca was feeling anxious over escalating tension between warring Inquirer owners Lewis Katz and George Norcross, he sought advice.
“This lawsuit is allied versus axis powers,” publisher Bob Hall allegedly told him. “No one can be Switzerland. And I’m on Norcross’s side.”
Lorenca, Hall’s associate publisher, decided to simply vacate the map altogether, resigning, effectively, at the end of this month.
This story emerged today while Hall was under cross-examination from attorneys representing Katz and fellow owner H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest in their suit against Hall and Interstate General Media, a consortium of businessmen including Jersey political power broker and insurance titan Norcross. Hall said he could not recall his exact wording to Lorenca, but essentially confirmed the account given by Katz’s lawyers, adding that he supported Norcross because “Norcross was on my side” to do what he felt needed to be done.
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