Friday, October 8, 2010

Psychologist Wins Libel Case Against Calif. Weeklies Publisher

San Bernadino County Sheriff Patrol CarImage by Pyrat Wesly via Flickr
A jury this week found Raymond Pryke, publisher of California weeklies, including the Hesperia Resorter, Adelanto Bulletin and Apple Valley News, defamed psychologist Nancy Bohl in a series of articles from June 1999, to April 2000, alleging she used her relationship with her husband, former San Bernadino County Sheriff  Gary Penrod, to secure a county contract and that she provided the Sheriff's office with confidential material from her counseling sessions.

According to stories in The San Bernadino Sun and The Victorville Daily Press, following a six-week trial, the 12-member jury awarded Bohl, owner of The Counseling Team, which offers crisis intervention services to sheriff's deputies, damages totaling $332,500 for lost business, emotional distress and harm to her reputation. In her complaint filed in June 2000, Bohl sought $1.5 million in damages, as well as punitive damages.

According to newspaper accounts, the 87-year-old Pryke's weeklies claimed that Bohl turned over  information obtained during confidential counselor-patient  sessions to Sheriff Penrod, whom she was dating at the time. Seventeen witnesses testified at trial that no confidences were breached, and the jury unanimously found the newspapers' accusations false. 

Crucial to the favorable verdict for the plaintiff  was San Bernadino County Superior Court Judge Frank Gafkowski's ruling last August that Bohl was a private individual, not a public figure, which meant that she only needed to prove negligence on the defendant's part in publishing the purported defamatory articles, rather than the higher standard of actual malice, which requires a finding that the media defendant knew it was publishing false information or exhibited reckless disregard concerning the truth or falsity of the information.

The defendant has yet to decide whether to appeal.
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