Tabloid trouble

Boston Herald ordered to pay libel damages of $563,052

The Boston Herald and one of its reporters, Jessica Van Sack, recklessly published a false and defamatory story in 2009 alleging that a woman engaged in “sexual acts” with a prison inmate at a state prison in Bridgewater and should pay damages totaling $563,052, a Suffolk Superior Court jury ruled on Wednesday.

The story appeared in the Herald on May 28, 2009 under the headline “Sources: Fox aided beau in prison visit with killer.” The story said the Herald had learned that state Rep. Gloria Fox was under state scrutiny for sneaking Joanna Marinova into the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater. The story also reported that Marinova had been identified by a guard as a girlfriend of convicted murderer Darrell Jones and that she had engaged in “sexual acts” with the “killer con” during a previous visit.

According to the verdict form, the 15-member jury ruled that the first and fourth paragraphs of Van Sack’s article contained statements that were false and defamatory to Marinova. The jury also concluded that the statements were published negligently and with reckless disregard for the truth.

The jury awarded Marinova $13,052 in actual damages and $550,000 in compensation for emotional distress. Her attorneys said the judgment has also accrued $270,000 in interest.

According to Marinova’s complaint, she worked with Jones on a number of initiatives while he was in prison and by the end of 2008, “their friendship had evolved into a committed relationship.”  During a visit with him on Nov. 29, 2008, the complaint says, Jones “may have put his hand on her knee and kissed her cheek. In a room filled with 30-40 people, including prison guards, and equipped with cameras, more intimate physical contact was out of the question.”

Jones was subsequently charged with violating three prison rules, including “engaging in sexual acts with another,” according to Marinova’s complaint. The charges for two of the rules violations, including the one dealing with sexual acts, were dismissed, the complaint said. Jones was disciplined for refusing a direct order, according to the complaint.

Marinova works for a nonprofit organization called Press Pass TV. In a statement issued by her attorneys, she said: “I want to thank the jury, my friends and family, my attorneys, and Darrell Jones, who was impacted by this story as well. On May 28, I read a story in the Boston Herald that degraded me and my humanity. The verdict today not only confirms that what was printed about me was false, and the paper knew it, but it restores my faith that members of the community can and should try to pursue good and the truth against all odds and adversities.”

Her attorneys said, “The verdict today tells the world that the Herald and Ms. Van Sack knowingly published damaging and false statements about Ms. Marionova.”

The Herald issued a statement indicating the newspaper will appeal. The Herald said the “article was entirely correct, from its headline to its last line. The article was meticulously researched, carefully written, and extremely well-documented. We are proud of it and of the journalist who wrote it. The article was not only excellent but important, leading as it did to a Department of Corrections investigation and certain reform measures. Lawsuits like the one filed here are serious threats not only to the rights of a free and robust press, but to the rights of the citizenry that expects, and depends upon, that free and robust press. The Herald fully expects to ultimately prevail in this matter.”

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The Herald was also found guilty of libel and ordered to pay $2 million in damages in connection with a 2002 story quoting former Judge Ernest Murphy as saying “tell her to get over it” in reference to a rape victim. The verdict was upheld in a 5-0 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2007. The Herald also lost a libel case in 2005 concerning a story about a Cape veterinarian’s treatment of a sick dog. In that case, the newspaper was ordered to pay damages of $225,000. Last year, the Herald successfully defended itself in a defamation case brought by Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston.

WHDH-TV (Channel 7) ran a story that was very similar to the Herald’s story on Marinova and Fox on June 3, 2009. The TV station cited sources for its report and did not attribute any of the information to the Herald. The TV station subsequently settled with Marinova.