Professor calls newspaper article defamatory

College editor, adviser face libel suits for story

MASSACHUSETTS -- Teachers suing students, a situation once considered rare, is now becoming more common among high school and college students and faculty.

In one of the most recent cases, Salem State College professor Adeleke Atewologun sued student newspaper editor Ed Justen, newspaper adviser Ellen Golub and the school itself in December claiming he was libeled in an article in The Log that reported that he was arrested for domestic violence.

According to court records, Atewologun claims Justen defamed him in a December article about a sexual harassment charge in which Justen said Atewologun was arrested in 1993 on a domestic abuse charge.

Atewologun, who denies all allegations, is suing for $216,000 in damages, claiming that his reputation was ruined as a result of the article.

"It is simply not true," Atewologun said. "The tone of the article is designed to malign me, is designed to destroy my reputation, and it embarrassed my kids."

But Justen, who wrote the article after receiving information from a confidential source, said he did nothing wrong.

According to John Albano, Justen's attorney, although Atewologun was not formally arrested, he was removed from his home and a restraining order was placed on him for domestic violence in 1994.

"The gist of the article that there had been a brush with the law at his home at which police had been called is true," Albano said. "The First Amendment does not require that every detail of every report be accurate in order to save someone from a libel case."

Albano said a critical part of the defense that the First Amendment provides is whether the defendant believed he was reporting the incident accurately, which he said Justen did.

Albano also said Atewologun should be considered a public figure for the purpose of the case.

"Mr. Atewologun is a pretty well-known figure in Salem State circles," Albano said. "It seems to me the extent to which he's been an active participant in controversies relating to the school will make him a public figure."

Public figures must prove a higher level of fault on the part of journalists than private persons. Generally, they must show that the person who is accused of libel either knew the published information was false or was reckless in determining its accuracy.

Prior to the December 11 article, which led to the lawsuit, Justen had reported on Atewologun's ongoing legal troubles, including two sexual harassment lawsuits filed by former Salem State students.

reports, Spring 2001