Schnader Attorneys Obtain Dismissal of Defamation Lawsuit Against Pennsylvania News WebsiteOn April 10, 2015 by Schnader in Litigation
PITTSBURGH-Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP attorneys Keith E. Whitson and Jonathan B. Skowron successfully defended local news website The Beaver Countian against a defamation lawsuit, which was originally brought by politicians who alleged defamation due to the website’s reporting on a publicly filed complaint and a related investigation regarding possible violations of campaign finance law.
The complaint filed with the Beaver County Bureau of Elections by Economy Borough Mayor David Poling and Michael “Doc” Sisk, Chairman of Beaver County Democratic Committee, (both also named as defendants), alleged the Bipartisan Committee had violated campaign finance laws by failing to properly report expenditures made during the primary election.
The Beaver Countian shared the complaint (which was a public record) and continued to report as the elections director forwarded the matter to the County Board of Elections. The publication stayed with the story, following the matter to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, and was the first publication to report that no criminal charges would be brought as a result of the investigation.
The former Bipartisan Committee members filed suit, alleging the website’s reporting on the public dispute defamed their reputations.
Mr. Whitson and Mr. Skowron, took on the case pro bono, representing John Paul Vranesevich, operator of The Beaver Countian. Mr. Whitson and Mr. Skowron argued that Mr. Vransevich’s comments were not defamatory as a matter of law because the articles merely quoted directly or indirectly the other defendants, and also quoted the plaintiffs’ own responses to those allegations. The Court agreed, finding that overall the articles were neutral, and even contained links to the underlying complaint so that readers could make their own determinations.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading digital civil rights organization, assisted with coordinating a defense for the website. The international nonprofit organization champions causes of user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.
Beaver County (Pa.) Common Pleas Judge Deborah Kunselman dismissed the defamation lawsuit on April 1, 2015.
More coverage of the case can be found here:
The Beaver County Times: Lawsuit dropped against Beaver County blogger