Judge dismisses libel suit against Erie newspaper
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A federal judge has dismissed a libel lawsuit that Pittsburgh lawyer Joseph Hudak filed against the Erie Times-News and two of its employees.
The newspaper published five stories about Mr. Hudak in 2005 and 2006 after he was arrested and charged with "theft by unlawful taking." The Erie district attorney alleged that Mr. Hudak took money from clients but failed to deliver promised legal services.
Mr. Hudak, 52, won all the criminal cases brought against him. One was heard by a jury, which acquitted him. Three others were dismissed by a state judge and the fifth case ultimately was withdrawn by Erie District Attorney Brad Foulk.
Mr. Hudak's victories in court were reported by the Times-News, but he sued anyway, saying his civil disputes with clients had been portrayed as crimes. He claimed that Times-News reporter Lisa Thompson and Managing Editor Pat Howard had libeled him with the coverage.
"In order to write flashy headlines, the Erie Times-News deliberately made these charges appear to be something they were not," Mr. Hudak said.
U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin of Erie threw out Mr. Hudak's lawsuit. He found that the Times-News coverage was substantially accurate and the "fair report privilege" protected each of the challenged articles.
Mr. Hudak said yesterday he will appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Editors of the Times-News did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Judge McLaughlin in December dismissed a civil-rights lawsuit that Mr. Hudak filed against the Erie district attorney over his prosecution. Mr. Hudak also is appealing that ruling.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2005 suspended Mr. Hudak from practicing law for one year and one day, finding that he "neglected his obligations to clients in eight separate matters."
He has not reapplied for his state law license, but said he continues to practice in the federal courts. Mr. Hudak, who has filed for personal bankruptcy, no longer has a law office. He said he works from his home in the East End or borrows other lawyers' offices when he takes a federal case.
First Published January 31, 2008 2:48 am