POWERFUL ADVOCATES

First Amendment and Transparency Practice

LEADERSHIP: Amy B. Ginensky

Defamation and Privacy Matters

  • Rapaport & McCaffery v. Interstate General Media, LLC, Feb. Term., 2014, No. 3044, (C.P. Philadelphia). Pepper represented the owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com, two editors, a reporter, and a cartoonist in a defamation and invasion of privacy suit by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, based on three Inquirer articles and a Daily News cartoon regarding Rapaport’s receipt of attorney referral fees. The plaintiffs voluntarily discontinued the action without payment of money by the defendants.
  • Sprague v. Porter, 2013 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 368 (Pa. Com. Pl. Nov. 1, 2013), aff'd 106 A. 3d. 175 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2014), pet. for allowance of appeal denied (Pa. May 1, 2015). Pepper represented a Philadelphia Daily News columnist in a suit filed by a prominent lawyer for defamation and invasion of privacy. The plaintiff alleged the columnist falsely called him a “liar.” The trial court granted summary judgment for the columnist on five separate grounds.
  • Greene v. Philadelphia Media Network, 2014 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 236 (Pa. Com. Pl. Aug. 1, 2014). The former head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority sued for defamation and false-light invasion of privacy based on over 250 articles. After a Frye hearing when plaintiff’s linguistics expert was extensively cross-examined, the court disqualified the expert and granted summary judgment in defendant's favor. The Pennsylvania Superior Court dismissed the appeal.
  • Henderson v. Lancaster Newspapers, Inc., No. 2007-12003, 2011 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 542 (Pa. Com. Pl. Sept. 19, 2011), aff’d without opinion, 60 A.3d 863 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2012). Henderson involved a former county commissioner who claimed that 19 articles and editorials published in three Lancaster, Pa. newspapers defamed her and invaded her privacy. The trial court granted summary judgment on actual malice and substantial truth grounds as to all of Henderson’s claims, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed.
  • Tucker v. Philadelphia Daily News, 848 A.2d 113 (Pa. 2004). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2004, after our lawyer’s argument, reversed the Superior Court and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the complaint on preliminary objections on the grounds of actual malice. This decision is important in Pennsylvania, often cited for setting a high bar for any actual malice case to proceed.
  • Lewis v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 833 A.2d 185 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003), appeal denied, 844 A.2d 553 (Pa. 2004). Our lawyers obtained summary judgment in this case brought by a state court judge with respect to a column in which she claimed a mistake was deliberately made. The decision was affirmed by the Superior Court, and a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was denied in 2004.
  • Blackwell v. Eskin, et al., 80 Pa. D. & C. 4th 284 (C.P. Philadelphia, 2006), aff’d, 916 A.2d 1123 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2007). In January 2007, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Howard Eskin, sportscaster, and NBC, rejecting the libel claim brought by a former assistant coach and past star of the Temple University basketball team. The Superior Court’s opinion is important in holding that even if the defendants had failed to investigate, either by obtaining independent confirmation of a single source’s story or consulting other more reliable sources, which was what the plaintiff argued and defendants denied, that finding would be insufficient to demonstrate actual malice.
  • Savitt v. Fraternal Order of Police, et al., No. 00567, 2005 WL 5006127 (C.P. Philadelphia, Oct 13, 2005) (Trial Order), aff’d, 915 A.2d 159 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2006).  In November 2006, a member of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission’s libel suit ended when the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The trial court had originally denied summary judgment, but our lawyers convinced the court to reconsider its decision. The plaintiff had sought to hold the newspaper responsible for reporting a critical statement by the head of the Fraternal Order of Police.
  • Norton v. Glenn, et al., 860 A.2d 48 (Pa. 2004). Our lawyers represented West Chester’s (Pa.) Daily Local News and its reporter and editors in a case where the mayor and president of Parkesburg, Pa., City Council claimed that the defendants libeled them when reporting outlandish charges by another council member, which the reporter had admitted during a first trial he thought were untrue. The first trial in favor of defendants had been reversed on the grounds that the Pennsylvania appellate courts found no neutral reportage privilege. Our lawyers retried the case to a jury until it was satisfactorily resolved prior to closing.
  • Merriweather v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 61 Pa. D. & C.4th 423 (C.P. Philadelphia, 2002), aff’d, 835 A.2d 842 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003), appeal denied, 842 A.2d 407 (Pa. 2004). Representation led to a judgment notwithstanding a jury verdict in favor of a popular Philadelphia judge. This decision was affirmed by Pennsylvania Superior Court. The 20-year-old case concluded with the denial in 2004 of a petition for allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
  • Rush v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 732 A.2d 648 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1999). In this appeal from grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and established the leading law on privacy claims in Pennsylvania.
  • Honorable Justice James McDermott v. Biddle, 674 A.2d 665 (Pa. 1995). Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice James McDermott sued The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1983 contending that a series, which was highly critical of practices by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, had defamed him. Another law firm tried the case in 1990, and there was a $6 million verdict against the defendants. After a number of appeals and motions before the trial court, our lawyers convinced the trial court to dismiss all but one claim. In 2006, the parties agreed to dismiss the cases without any payment and with each side to bear its own costs.

Transparency

  • Office of Attorney General v. The Philadelphia Inquirer. Argued en banc before the Commonwealth Court to obtain full disclosure of public record emails at the Office of the Attorney General that demonstrate officials at the highest levels of government were involved in trafficking inappropriate emails including pornographic material, misogynistic and racist material. Pepper has obtained a ruling from the Attorney General's Appeals Officer ordering the public records released.
  • Numerous successes in obtaining documents denied by government agencies, including a report conducted by the Department of Transportation on the safety of railways that had been withheld for more than a year. Pepper obtained release of the document within one week. Pepper also assisted clients in obtaining release of superintendent’s salary information; police reports; and years of data on arrests in one of the country’s largest counties.
  • Publicker v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059 (3d Cir. 1984). Successfully represented a newspaper in an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where the court issued a precedent-setting decision regarding access to civil proceedings, recognizing First Amendment concerns.
  • Easton Area School District v. Baxter, 35 A.3d 1259 (Pa. Commwlth. 2012). Successfully obtained release of emails between school board members concerning agency business.
  • United States v. White, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21342 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 22, 2004). Successfully opposed protective order in high profile corruption case.
  • Haber v. Evans, 268 F. Supp. 2d 507 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Successfully obtained access to exhibits to pleadings filed in high profile case involving state police.
  • Shingara v. Skiles, 420 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2005). Obtained reversal of district court order granting a protective order.
  • Kurtzman v. Hankin, 714 A.2d 450 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998). Represented a newspaper when the trial court closed civil proceedings. The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the closing.

Other Newsroom Issues

  • State of New Jersey v. Neulander, 801 A.2d 255 (N.J. 2002), cert. denied sub nom.,Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. New Jersey, 537 U.S. 1192 (2003).  Successfully represented a reporter in a contempt proceeding relating to the trial of Rabbi Neulander in New Jersey for the murder of his wife. The reporter was charged with violating a court order prohibiting contacting jurors after a mistrial. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's finding of contempt and fine.  
  • Perry v. Keulian, No. 96-1374, 1997 WL 459971 (E.D. Pa. July 25, 1997).  Successfully defended subpoena for non-confidential information in federal court. The district court quashed the subpoena finding that the party had not met First Amendment requirements for subpoena.
  • Prison Legal News v. Kane, No. 15045, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55250 (M.D.P.A. Apr. 28, 2015): As co-counsel with the ACLU, represented journalists and formerly incarcerated community leaders in successful challenge to constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s Revictimization Relief Act, which had permitted courts to enjoin and penalize speech that caused crime victims mental anguish.