P.M. BRIEFING : Paper Pays $2.77 Million for Libel
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has paid a $2.77-million libel judgment to a lawyer who was the subject of a 1979 story over a will he prepared.
It was the largest libel judgment ever paid by a newspaper and the second-largest judgment upheld by U.S. courts, according to the Post-Gazette. The largest was a $3-million libel award last year against CBS News.
But the newspaper’s editor, John G. Craig Jr., said today that he believes the libel decision is “a particular Pennsylvania problem” and will not have nationwide repercussions.
A Westmoreland County jury ruled in 1985 that the newspaper libeled Richard DiSalle, a former state and appellate judge. At issue was a Sept. 10, 1979, article about the disputed will of millionaire Paul Ciaffoni. The article contained allegations made in court documents by some relatives that the will was fraudulently altered and that DiSalle had a close relationship with the co-executor, Ciaffoni’s youngest daughter.
The judge instructed the jury that under state libel law, publications about judicial proceedings are immune from legal responsibility even if they contain information that defames an individual. The judge said, however, that newspapers give up that immunity if an article is not a fair summary of those court proceedings.