Maryland teen files $2.6 million claim
High school reporter is target of libel suit
MARYLAND — The Anne Arundel County Board of Education and a student newspaper reporter are currently facing a $2.6 million libel suit filed by the family of a former student who claims a quote attributed to him was so damaging to his reputation he had to change schools.
The student, Anthony Bonacci, and his parents Steven and Joanne Bonacci, are alleging that he was libeled by a fabricated and defamatory quote.
A quote was attributed to Bonacci in a story by Spectrum reporter Jennifer Tisdale, that said “I frequently sexually harass girls, and I don’t think I’ll stop any time in the near future.”
The suit claims that “as a direct and proximate result of the libelous actions of … Jennifer Tisdale … Bonacci suffered severe, painful, and permanent humiliation and injuries to his reputation, which has caused him and will continue to cause him great pain, mental anguish and emotional distress.”
The Bonaccis are also claiming that the Anne Arundel County School District was negligent, in that it did not provide appropriate supervision of the student newspaper, therefore facilitating the quotation’s publication.
Tisdale claims that Anthony Bonacci was given the opportunity to view and edit his quote before it was published, and that he approved of it running in the newspaper.
Darren Burns, attorney to the Anne Arundel Public Schools superintendent, said the lawsuit is one without merit.
“We are viewing it as a ridiculous suit,” he said.
County attorneys have taken the case on behalf of the school system and Tisdale.
Kim Carney, Anne Arundel County attorney representing the school district, said because the case is still in its early stages, she could not comment about it.
Since the filing of the original suit, the mother of Tisdale has filed a countersuit, claiming $2.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
Linda Deringer, Tisdale’s mother, is claiming that Anthony Bonacci slandered her daughter by accusing her of fabricating a quote.
The countersuit also targets Bonacci’s parents as conspiring to defame a minor.
Following the publication of the article quoting Anthony Bonacci, his father wrote a letter explaining the incident.
The letter was sent to the parents of journalism students at Arundel High School.
Part of the letter stated that “Obviously, the writer [of the article] is guilty of libel. Not only does she jeopardize her own future in journalism; she also damages the reputation of the paper.”
Deringer’s counterclaim states that this letter was libelous to Tisdale.
“The conspiracy and resulting defamation of the Minor, Jennifer Tisdale, were maliciously carried out by Counterclaim Defendant, Steven Bonacci,” the suit states, “whose only concerns were his own self interest, and the publicly perceived reputation of his minor son and himself, without any consideration whatsoever for the truth….”
Fall 1997, reports