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Appeals court affirms decision to throw out $10M libel verdict against Times Publishing Co.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court's decision to throw out a $10 million libel verdict concerning articles that appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

The lawsuit focused on three articles written by the late Times reporter Paul de la Garza about Dr. Harold L. Kennedy, former chief of medicine at Bay Pines VA Medical Center.

Times attorney Alison Steele welcomed the ruling, saying, "The Times has never wavered in its belief in Mr. de la Garza or the stories."

The plaintiff's attorney, Timothy Weber, said, "Obviously, Dr. Kennedy is disappointed and we'll take a look at the decision and what our options are."

Weber said no decision has yet been made on whether to appeal. He said the case could not be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.

He said he was disappointed that the appellate court simply affirmed the lower court's ruling without comment, and that the lower court did not provide extensive explanation for why the jury's verdict was overturned.

The articles mentioned in the lawsuit were published in 2003 about Kennedy and his reassignment from chief of medicine to his subspecialty of cardiology at Bay Pines.

Kennedy filed suit in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court in 2005. He and his attorney argued that portions of the articles were false, and that the Times knew or should have known they were false.

But the Times argued at the trial, and in a motion later to the judge, that the articles were accurate.

After the five-day trial in 2009, a jury sided with Kennedy, saying he should be awarded $5.1 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.

But in 2010, Circuit Judge Anthony Rondolino overturned the ruling, saying evidence in the case was "insufficient to cross the threshold required by the First Amendment."

De la Garza, who wrote the articles, died in 2006, before the trial.

Appeals court affirms decision to throw out $10M libel verdict against Times Publishing Co. 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:56pm]
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