Eramo’s attorneys ask judge to uphold jury verdict
Rolling Stone, Sabrina Erdely previously found liable for defamation
Lawyers for former University Assoc. Dean Nicole Eramo are asking a federal judge to uphold a jury’s verdict that found Rolling Stone magazine, parent company Wenner Media, Inc. and writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely liable of defamation in connection with the now-debunked article, “A Rape on Campus.”
In November, a federal jury awarded Eramo $3 million in damages and also found the attachment of an editor’s note to the article Dec. 5, 2014 — a note that questioned the veracity of Jackie’s story — constituted a republication of the article.
Rolling Stone’s attorneys filed a motion Dec. 5 for Judge Glen Conrad to overturn the jury’s verdict, and Conrad suspended enforcement of the $3 million judgment Dec. 6 until the motion is ruled on.
Eramo’s lawyers filed their response to Rolling Stone’s motion Dec. 27.
In the opposition, Eramo’s attorneys contended the jury reasonably found the defendants republished “A Rape on Campus” when they reprinted the article with an editor’s note. Additionally, Eramo’s attorneys asserted the defendants’ statements are actionable, meaning they can be subject to legal action.
Eramo’s attorneys also argued they provided “more than sufficient evidence of harm and damages from the post-article statements” and of actual malice — defined as a blatant disregard for the truth — in Erdely’s statements.
The jury considered statements from Erdely that appeared both in the article itself and post-publication interviews.
“Ms. Eramo presented overwhelming proof of every category of actual malice evidence the jury was entitled to consider,” Eramo’s lawyers said in court documents. “[This includes] evidence that Erdely had a preconceived storyline, had obvious reasons to doubt her source’s credibility, failed to investigate in the face of inconsistencies, purposefully avoided the truth, failed to interview obvious witnesses and was aware of contradictory information.”
On the other hand, the defense’s motion for judgment contended Rolling Stone and Wenner Media had not re-published their article, arguing that there was no evidence they “affirmatively reiterated” their defamatory statements or intended to reach a new audience by adding the note.
“The jury verdict acts as a million-dollar penalty against a publisher that sought to promptly put readers on notice of serious concerns with an article and, as such, violates basic public policy,” the defense team’s lawyers said.
However, Eramo’s attorneys argued the Editor’s Note reiterated the damaging statements against their client.
“Defendants went out of their way in the Editor’s Note to bolster the portions of the article not specifically dealing with Jackie’s alleged assault, and in particular the criticisms of Dean Eramo’s response to Jackie’s rape,” Eramo’s attorneys wrote.
The defense also argued Eramo did not provide sufficient evidence of damage or actual malice on Erdely’s part, and the statements considered by the jury were not actionable.
“The record does not contain sufficient evidence for any rational jury to find by clear and convincing evidence that Erdely made any of the challenged statements knowing they were false or subjectively entertaining serious doubts as to their accuracy,” court documents said.
In addition to the defense’s motion for judgment, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight media companies filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the defendants’ motion for judgment.
“The Court’s decision to have the jury determine whether the defamatory information was ‘republished’ when an editor’s note was attached would be harmful for news organizations and those who rely upon them for accurate news reports,” the brief stated. “Upholding the current verdict would discourage the news media from correcting errors in their stories, particularly because not mentioning a particular fact from a story in the note constitutes ‘republishing’ it.”
Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said that after the group decided to write to the court on the issue of republication, they asked several different media organizations to join them.
“The Reporters Committee filed a brief now because there was a clear issue before the court, concerning what it allowed the jury to decide,” Leslie said in an email statement. “[That is] whether posting an editor's note to a story constitutes a ‘republication’ of the article.”
Lawyers for Eramo and Rolling Stone did not respond to a request for comment.