By Greg Ryan
Boston Business Journal
The Boston Herald won a court victory on Wednesday over Tom Scholz, the founder of the homegrown 1970s rock band Boston, who accused the newspaper of defaming him by implying he was the cause of lead singer Brad Delp's 2007 suicide.
Delp's ex-wife Micki, whose interview with the outlet formed a substantial chunk of Scholz's libel allegations, also beat Scholz's claims against her. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling upheld victories in a lower court for both the Herald and Micki Delp.
Herald gossip columnists Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa wrote three articles after Delp's death that allegedly claimed Delp was driven to suicide by stress over the band and the long-standing rift between Scholz and the former members of Boston, known for hits such as "More Than A Feeling" and "Amanda." The columnists relied on Micki Delp and "unnamed insiders" in the pieces. One article was titled "Pal's snub made Delp do it: Boston rocker's ex-wife speaks," referring to Scholz's alleged decision to disinvite bandmate Fran Cosmo from a summer tour.
Scholz's lawsuit fails because reasonable readers would see the articles as opinions, not facts, the high court ruled.
The columnists' use of terms such as "may have" and "reportedly" signaled that they were speculating on the cause of Delp's death, according to the court. "The most extreme language appeared in the headline, which a reasonable reader would not expect to include nuanced phrasing," it said.
The very fact that the articles appeared in the "Inside Track" gossip column also points to the assertions being mere speculation, the court found.
An attorney who represented the Herald, Jeffrey Robbins of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC, said the ruling marked a major First Amendment victory for media companies. "The Herald and its publishers, its editors and its journalists have been completely vindicated and, moreover, have a lot to be proud of today for their willingness to stand up not only for themselves, but for journalists across Massachusetts and the country," Robbins said.
By Greg Ryan