The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a $3.5 million defamation verdict against Wilkes-Barre’s The Citizens’ Voice and ordered a new trial after finding the original trial may have been fixed by two former judges and a reputed crime boss, the Times Leader reported.
The case began when Thomas Joseph sued the Voice after it reported on an investigation into his connection with alleged mobster William D’Elia. Joseph was never charged with any crime, but claimed that the newspaper damaged his reputation. The $3.5 verdict levied against the Voice was appealed and upheld by the state Superior Court.
The newspaper’s attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to overturn the verdict in February just days after two county judges who were involved in the case, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella, were arrested and charged with racketeering, bribery and conspiracy. The newspaper presented evidence to the court that showed Conahan had assigned the case to Ciavarella and assured D’Elia, with whom he reportedly had close ties, there would be a favorable outcome for Joseph.
Ciavarella has since stepped down from his position after pleading guilty in a separate case last February to accepting approximately $2.6 million in bribes to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. Conahan is facing racketeering charges.