Marimow, Inquirer Fight Back Against McCaffery Lawsuit

Journalists say they reported story accurately — and let the public decide its meaning.

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.

“While Plaintiffs insist that the articles convey to readers that Plaintiffs acted unethically and illegally, the articles do not contain an opinion from The Inquirer or the author, McCoy, as to whether the conduct discussed was unethical, illegal, or otherwise improper,” attorney Amy B. Ginensky wrote. “Instead, the articles accurately disclose the opinions of judges, ethics experts, and private lawyers based on accurately disclosed facts, permitting readers to draw their own conclusions after reading the reporting.”

Ginensky also responded to revelations that then-publisher Bob Hall — who left the job this week following the ownership change at the Inquirerwas disappointed in McCoy’s initial article and its front-page placement.

“At most, Hall’s email establishes that the the March 4 article could’ve been written differently, and in a way that Justice McCaffery and Rapaport may have liked better,” she wrote. “While this may have may have made Plaintiffs less upset and less likely to sue … an article is not false simply because it appears on the front page or includes accurate information which they (or, for that matter, the publisher) might have preferred had been omitted. The article let readers (like Hall) consider the conduct presented, and  if they saw fit, reach their own opinions.”

She also defended the Inquirer’s right to report on public officials and possible influences upon them.

“Because the articles are about matters of public concern — specifically, the workings of the judiciary and the duties of a state Supreme Court justice and his chief judicial aide — they cannot, as a matter of law, constitute false light invasion of privacy,” Ginensky wrote.

In a separate filing on behalf of Daily News editor Michael Days and editorial cartoonist Signe Wilikinson, Ginensky also defended a cartoon based on the reporting about McCaffery’s activities.

“Plaintiffs do not dispute that Rapaport, while working as her husband’s chief judicial aide, made referrals to and received referral fees from law firms that appeared before Justice McCaffery. They do not dispute that Justice McCaffery complained to a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court supervising judge about a trial judge presiding over cases involving one of the law firms that paid Rapaport referral fees and whose lawyers contributed to Justice McCaffery’s election campaigns. And they do not dispute that a report on Philadelphia Traffic Court corruption suggested that Justice McCaffery had intervened in connection with a ticket that Rapaport had received,” she wrote. “Yet Plaintiffs  have sued …. based on a Daily News editorial cartoon that merely criticizes them — albeit sharply and vividly — as to these issues.”

A third filing, from newspaper owner Interstate General Media, joined in those defenses.

A hearing in the matter is scheduled for June 24th in Harrisburg. All Philadelphia judges have been recused from the case.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.