A jury Friday ordered the Boston Herald to pay $2.1 million for libeling a Superior Court judge, saying it misquoted him as telling lawyers that a 14-year-old rape victim should “get over it.”
In a case closely watched by the media and legal communities, a jury deliberated for more than 20 hours over five days before finding that the newspaper and reporter David Wedge libeled Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy in articles that portrayed him as lenient toward defendants. Another reporter, Jules Crittenden, was cleared.
Murphy claimed Wedge misquoted him as telling lawyers involved in the case about the teenage rape victim: “Tell her to get over it.”
The quote was included in a February 2002 series of Herald articles that said Murphy had been criticized by prosecutors for lenient sentences, including eight years’ probation for a 17-year-old convicted of two rapes and an armed robbery.
Murphy, 61, sued the Herald and its writers, claiming his comments about the 14-year-old, made in a closed-door meeting with lawyers, were misquoted and taken out of context. The newspaper stood by its reporting.
“I’m feeling obviously very elated and very gratified about what’s happened so far,” Murphy said as he left court after the verdict was read. Later, Murphy said he hoped the verdict would be a warning to journalists around the country.
Patrick J. Purcell, the newspaper’s president and publisher, issued a statement thanking the jury “for their diligence on this very complicated case” but added, “We have complete faith in our reporter David Wedge, and we are confident this decision will be reversed on appeal.”
“We believe the First Amendment allows news organizations to provide uninhibited coverage of government and public figures, and we will continue to cover them vigorously,” Purcell said.