Ex-Burbank Councilman Ordered to Pay $10,000 for Libelous Column
Former Burbank City Councilman Jim Richman has been ordered to pay a $10,000 libel judgment to a political foe who Richman implied was homosexual.
The judgment was entered in favor of political activist Stanley Lynch, who sued Richman for writing in a weekly newspaper column in 1979 that Lynch and a political ally were “really sweet 35-year-old unmarried boys.”
After a 90-minute trial without a jury, Burbank Superior Court Judge Judith Chirlin on Friday found that Richman’s remark libeled Lynch “by implying that he is a homosexual.”
The judge also ruled that, although Lynch was a public figure not normally entitled to collect damages for libel, Richman could be sued because he had acted with “reckless disregard for the truth.”
The 40-year-old Lynch, who was part of a political faction with which Richman feuded bitterly while on the council from 1977 to 1981, called Chirlin’s decision a “great victory over a man who is a bully, a demagogue and an egomaniac.”
He said the remark “hurt me and my family deeply and may have caused economic harm” to his now-defunct advertising and political button business.
Lynch, who married two years ago, said he has “never been a homosexual, but when you’re 35 and unmarried and someone makes a statement like that, it starts people talking.”
Richman, 51, dismissed Chirlin’s judgment as “nothing more than the opinion of a single county employee” and said he might appeal the verdict.
It was the second judgment against Richman in recent months. In July, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury ordered him to pay $5,000 in punitive damages as part of a $4.6-million judgment against Burbank that was won by a concert promotion firm.
The victor in that case was Cinevision Inc., which the city barred from staging rock concerts at the city-owned Starlight Amphitheatre in 1979. Richman had led opposition to the concerts, arguing they would attract numbers of “homosexuals and dopers.”
In the more recent case, the statement found to be libelous was contained in a column Richman wrote for the Burbank Scene, a now-defunct weekly newspaper that in 1979 invited council members to write columns on a rotating basis.
Richman insisted that the remark did not imply homosexuality, adding, “If I thought there was a connotation of him being a fag, I would have struck it from the column.”
He said he dictated the column in question by telephone from Idaho while on vacation and “can’t really say for sure whether those were even my words or not.”
Richman added that Lynch “will be old and gray before he ever sees a penny of my money.”
Lynch called Richman a “slippery character” but vowed to “find him and collect, no matter what rock he hides under.”
The other man to whom Richman’s remark referred, former Burbank Mayor William B. Rudell, at the time Lynch filed his suit, denounced the Richman column as libelous but said he would not sue because court decisions have placed a greater burden of proof on public officials in libel cases.
Lynch, a former chairman of the Burbank Board of Library Trustees and leader of an abortive effort in 1978 to recall Richman, originally asked for $700,000 when he filed the suit five years ago.
But, in final arguments before Chirlin, Lynch’s attorney, Donald Ingalls, asked for $20,000 in damages.