Libel Suit Takes Aim at Print Reporter's Words on TV:
"...[Judge] Murphy [has] filed suit against the [Boston]Herald and four of its writers for a 'malicious and relentless campaign of libel unprecedented in the history of this Commonwealth.' In court papers, he said the Herald 'set out to sensationalize' a story that never happened. As a result, he said, his life had been threatened, his reputation had been ruined, and two of his daughters had been threatened with rape on a Herald-sponsored chat room. In August of this year, a Boston judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit.
The case, set for trial next month, is significant because it uses the rambunctious exchange on a talk show to try to prove the malicious intent of a newspaper reporter....
It took three weeks before Murphy fought back in print. When the Herald had asked him to comment, the day after Wedge's 'Murphy's Law' story ran, he declined, citing rules on closed judicial discussions. But when a Boston Globe reporter called him in early March 2002, when the case was closed, he talked.
'I deny that I ever said anything critical of, or demeaning about, the victim,' he said. 'Every single quote that has been attributed to me about that has been fabricated out of thin air. The real truth is 180 degrees. I was extremely concerned about the welfare of the victim, and I made that position apparent to everyone.'
Indeed, the prosecutor, David E. Frank, said in a sworn affidavit that during the only conference related to McSweeney's sentencing: 'Murphy expressed concern for the victim. He asked counsel about the defendant's ability to pay for counseling for the victim.' He added: 'I never heard Justice Murphy say 'Tell her to get over it.''
So where did the quote come from?...
[Herald reporter] Wedge said he stands behind what he wrote but acknowledged the quote may not have been exact. 'I know he said the judge said either 'She's got to get over it' or 'Tell her to get over it,'' he said in an interview. Murphy maintains the conversation never occurred.
Two defense lawyers who were present, Anton B. Cruz and Joseph Harrington Jr., said in sworn statements that they did not see a confrontation or hear Murphy say anything about a 14-year-old [statutory] rape victim.
Wedge acknowledged in an affidavit that the 14-year-old girl, who he wrote had 'tearfully' read her 'heart-wrenching' statement in court, in fact never spoke in court nor took the stand. And although his story referred to 'several' courthouse sources, he confirmed in a deposition that he had talked with only one person who had allegedly heard Murphy make the comment.
But for a public figure, simple untruths are not enough to win a libel lawsuit; there must be 'reckless disregard' for the truth. That is one reason it is almost unheard of for a judge to sue over reporting on his official conduct.
But Murphy's attorneys seized on Wedge's comments on 'The O'Reilly Factor' on March 7, 2002. O'Reilly asked Wedge, 'Are you absolutely 100 percent sure that Judge Murphy said that the rape victim should get over it?' Wedge answered, 'Yes. He made this comment to three lawyers. He knows he said it, and everybody else that knows this judge knows that he said it.' Murphy's attorneys contrasted these statements to Wedge's statements under oath, when he repeatedly answered 'I don't know' or 'I don't recall' to questions about the reporting and writing of his story.
Wedge also 'upped the ante' by suggesting that Murphy had made disparaging remarks not only about a victim but 'to victims,' and by telling Fox viewers that Murphy was 'coddling defendants,' they claim in their briefs."
4 years ago