Court Sides with Boston Herald in Defamation Lawsuit from Boston’s Tom Scholz
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court awarded the Boston Herald $132,000 on Wednesday when it unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling on a 2010 defamation lawsuit against the paper brought by musician and founding member of the band Boston, Tom Scholz.
Scholz sued the paper claiming that articles by the newspaper’s gossip columnists, The Inside Track, blamed Scholz for the suicide of the former lead singer of Boston, Brad Delp. The Herald splashed one of the articles on the front page of the tabloid with the headline “Pal’s snub made Delp do it.” Delp was deeply hurt when a bandmate and friend, Fran Cosmo, was left off a Boston tour, according to a Herald interview with his ex-wife.
The court found that The Inside Track columns published in 2007 were protected under the First Amendment and fell within the scope of opinion pieces, as they contained speculation that was clearly identified to “reasonable readers.”
Some highlights from the ruling:
By laying out the bases for their conclusions, the articles “clearly indicated to the reasonable reader that the proponent of the expressed opinion engaged in speculation and deduction based on the disclosed facts.”
In context, a reasonable reader would consider the statements about the cause of Brad’s suicide to have been nothing more than conjecture or speculation, reflecting the opinion of the speaker.
In addition, the use of cautionary terms in the articles, such as “may have” and “reportedly,” relayed to the reader that the authors were “indulging in speculation.”
A reasonable reader might reach a determination that the statements that Brad was upset about the lingering bad feelings from the breakup of the band, and about the decision to rescind the invitation to Cosmo to join the tour, were factual. These statements, however, do not defame Scholz.
“This is a huge victory not only for the Herald, its publisher, its editors, and its journalists but one for journalists across the country,” said Jeff Robbins, the Boston Herald’s lawyer.
As part of the ruling, Scholz has to pay the tabloid $132,000 in court costs.