Judge issues opinion affirming $34 million libel award
PENNSYLVANIA — In late October a state judge in Philadelphia issued a 170-page opinion upholding a $34 million libel award against the Philadelphia Inquirer in a long-running suit by Richard A. Sprague, a former prosecutor.
The opinion by Court of Common Pleas Judge Charles P. Mirarchi Jr. explains his September 1992 ruling refusing to overturn a 1990 jury award of $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $31.5 million in punitive damages.
In 1988 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned an earlier jury award of $4.5 million.
The case arose from articles published in 1973 suggesting that Sprague had halted a murder investigation focusing on the son of a police captain.
In his opinion, Judge Mirarchi wrote that before the articles were published, Sprague “enjoyed an unimpeachable reputation,” the Associated Press reported. The judge added, “These defamatory articles painted Sprague’s reputation with a black brush, which is resistant to all erasable solvents,” the Associated Press reported.
The Inquirer is appealing Judge Mirarchi’s ruling to state Superior Court in Philadelphia, said Samuel E. Klein, a lawyer for the newspaper.
(Sprague v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc.; Media Counsel: Samuel E. Klein, Philadelphia)