Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Semiweekly Takes Big Libel Hit

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Florida Semiweekly Takes Big Libel Hit

Article excerpt

Case of compounding mistakes

Journal Communications Inc. paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit against a 5,000-circulation Florida community paper in a case that was a textbook example of what not to do to prevent libel.

"When you've done wrong, you just don't want to go into court - it's like hitting yourself in the head with a ball-peen hammer," Journal Communications General Counsel Paul Kritzer said of the Feb. 25 settlement, involving former Clay County, Fla., Commissioner Charles R. "Buddy" Griffin and his wife Melissa. They brought suit against Clay Today, a semiweekly in Orange Park published by the Milwaukee-based chain's Add Inc. subsidiary.

In 1998, things were not going well for the Griffins. The daughter of another county commissioner falsely accused the couple of abusing their son, Lance, who at the time was 6 years old and facing surgery for a life-threatening heart condition. The accuser later confessed to lying in a child-abuse complaint and was sentenced to probation and community service. By that time, Charles Griffin had lost re-election by 355 votes.

Clay Today's troubles started when the allegations were still fresh, and callers were leaving messages for the newspaper's "Speakout! …

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