Cuyahoga County Court rejects News 5 Cleveland’s defense of its defamatory report against Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins and Village council members

Yesterday afternoon, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Kelly Ann Gallagher denied Defendants Scripps Media Inc., Cleveland Channel 5 News, and reporter Jonathan Walsh’s motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed by Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins and four Village council members over News 5’s report that falsely accused them of running a “widespread scam” by which they “charged people for calling the cops.” In denying Defendants’ motion, the Court rejected their arguments that their so-called “investigative report” was actually just a matter of “opinion,” and that their attempt to smear the Newburgh Heights officials was protected government criticism under the First Amendment. The case will now proceed to discovery where Plaintiffs will confirm that Defendants recklessly and maliciously pursued their baseless report.

“The right of a free press to investigate and criticize the government is a bedrock of democracy,” said Peter Pattakos, attorney for the Plaintiffs. “But, fortunately for the public—who has an interest in truthful journalism and healthy public discourse—the law does not grant a free pass to defame people who serve as public officials by publishing knowingly false statements that these public officials did something nefarious that they did not actually do. News 5 and its reporters knew very well that our clients didn’t ‘charge people for calling the cops,’ but only billed negligent drivers’ insurance companies for accident-related costs that they were legally responsible to pay, to keep Newburgh Heights citizens from unfairly having to bear those costs. It’s outrageous that the Defendants would try to argue, after the fact, that their ‘investigative report’ by which they claimed to ‘expose’ a ‘secret scam,’ was only just a matter of ‘opinion.’ Investigations are for exposing facts and that’s exactly what Defendants purported to do here. We’re thankful that the Court saw through this argument and we look forward to vindicating our clients’ good names before a jury.”

More information about the case (Cuyahoga County No. CV-17-889733), including a copy of the complaint, is available here.