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Pa. newspaper asks judge to step aside in libel case

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The Scranton Times-Tribune asked Lackawanna County Judge Robert A. Mazzoni to recuse himself from a libel case brought against the…

The Scranton Times-Tribune asked Lackawanna County Judge Robert A. Mazzoni to recuse himself from a libel case brought against the newspaper by two former county commissioners.

At issue, according to Times-Tribune attorney J. Timothy Hinton, Jr., is a 2005 complaint Mazzoni made to the newspaper about former staff writer Jennifer Henn, the reporter of the allegedly libelous story, for a piece she wrote which contained quotations from the judge that he said were supposed to be off the record

Furthermore, Mazzoni seemed to maintain an ongoing friendly relationship with the county commissioners, according to information gained through depositions, Hinton said.

In a related matter, the former commissioners have sought to compel the newspaper to identify a confidential source cited in Henn’s 2004 story. In June 2005, Mazzoni ruled that the newspaper must disclose the identity of the source, but the state Superior Court reversed. The case is now pending on appeal before Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Hinton said he has until June 30 to submit a brief making his case for the judge to step aside.

The other seven members of the county bench have already recused themselves based on various conflicts of interest, according to chief Judge Chester T. Harhut. The decision is entirely a discretionary matter left up to Mazzoni, Harhut said.

If Mazzoni declines to hear the case, Harhut said he would ask the state’s highest court to assign a judge from outside the county.