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BOSTON � The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld a $2.01 million libel verdict against the Boston Herald for attributing false and defamatory statements to state Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy. In the opinion, Justice John Greaney said the jury’s verdict reflects its conclusion that reporter David Wedge and the Herald defamed Murphy with actual malice. Greaney also said the Herald had “an awareness that they were enabling a campaign by the district attorney for the Bristol district to discredit the plaintiff by attacking the core attributes a judge must possess � even temperament, lack of any bias, fairness at all times, and a particular sensitivity to the plight of victims of crimes.” In a statement, Herald president and publisher Patrick J. Purcell said the newspaper was “deeply troubled” and disappointed with the Supreme Judicial Court’s “relentlessly one-sided view of Dave Wedge’s reporting on a public controversy within the judicial system.” Murphy met the high legal standards for public officials to bring a defamation case against a media outlet, said Michael Avery, a Suffolk University Law School professor who argued the appeal to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. “They can’t publish material they know is false or that they reasonably suspect is false,” Avery said. “That’s just good journalism.” Beginning in February 2002, the Herald published stories about Murphy’s alleged softness on crime. The paper characterized him as a pro-defendant, “wrist-slapping” judge who has “heartlessly demeaned victims.” A quote attributed to “several courthouse sources” about Murphy’s alleged comments about a teenage rape victim sparked a national firestorm of criticism of Murphy. According to the Herald, Murphy said: “She can’t go through life as a victim. She’s [fourteen]. She got raped. Tell her to get over it.” The decision affirms the trial judge’s revision of the jury’s $2.09 million damage award in February 2005. Bingham McCutchen lawyer Jon Albano, who submitted an amicus brief on behalf of 15 media organizations, said that while the court explained that it wasn’t breaking new legal ground, media outlets might worry about publishing negative statements made by a public official about another public official. “Only time will tell how the case gets interpreted down the road,” Albano said.

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