Judge finds editorial not defamatory, dismisses libel suit against newspaper





PENNSYLVANIA — A judge recently dismissed a libel lawsuit filed by an attorney against The Temple News. A. Charles Peruto Sr., a Philadelphia attorney, filed the lawsuit in 1992 after an editorial in The Temple News referred to him as a “scumbag lawyer” and “loud-mouth lawyer” because he represented two Temple University fraternity members who were accused of rape.

The editorial also stated that Peruto had “added fuel to the inferno” of the campus controversy and that he had not “had the good sense to act like an adult, a professional and a human being.”

The court granted summary judgment to the News in January, holding that the editorial was not defamatory.

The phrases “scumbag lawyer” and “loud-mouth lawyer” constituted insulting but unactionable name-calling and were not “code words for some more pernicious charge,” the court stated.

The court also dismissed Peruto’s other allegations against the News. Peruto had made claims for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and general negligence.

Peruto said he sued the News as a “form of protest and education.”

He said he wanted “to try to educate these people about the do’s and don’ts of good journalism and to show them how they could be brought to task.”

In Peruto’s view, the newspaper rushed to judgment in criticizing him and the two students he represented.

“When people have the power to put the printed word out and do harm to others, they should be more circumspect,” Peruto said.

The News should have done more investigation of the complainant’s charges, Peruto said, before lambasting him and the defendants, who were exonerated.

While the court held that the News editorial was “not capable of defamatory meaning,” the court did not sanction the newspaper’s editorial comments regarding Peruto. In its opinion, the court reprimanded the News for using “tasteless language . . . which rings of language sometimes used by fifth-graders at recess.” The court also stated that it hoped the student editors “would strive to communicate their views with language more refined than the name-calling contained in this editorial.”

Peruto said he does not plan to appeal the court’s decision.

Carl Single, attorney for the News, did not return phone calls for comment.


reports, Spring 1997