Trial under way on defamation suit filed by former candidate

Greiber alleges remarks in Annapolis newspaper damaged his law practice

April 07, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The trial of a defamation suit filed by former political candidate John R. Greiber against the Annapolis Capital newspaper opened yesterday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court with claims that its editorial remarks humiliated him and damaged his law practice.

"He has lost something he can never get back," said Roy L. Mason, the lawyer representing Greiber, a Republican who lost in the 1994 election for county state's attorney. "That is his reputation as a lawyer."

Greiber filed the lawsuit shortly after John G. Gary lost his bid for re-election as county executive in 1998. The trial focuses on a 1997 editorial that called Greiber "an unqualified ally" of Gary, according to the lawsuit. Gary had provided him with county legal work.

But the newspaper is countering that the case is about politics, patronage and efforts to boost Greiber after his loss at the polls.

Because of an earlier court ruling that he is a public figure, Greiber must prove to the jury that the newspaper acted with malice against him.

Newspaper attorney Raymond G. Mullady Jr. contended in an opening statement that Greiber is misreading the editorial. The editors did not say Greiber was unqualified as a lawyer, rather that he was not a credible candidate in 1994 for chief prosecutor, Mullady told the six jurors and two alternates hearing the case.

"One of the things that is endemic to politics is patronage," Mullady said.

Politics is part of the background of the suit. Greiber ran for state's attorney on Gary's ticket but lost to Democratic incumbent Frank R. Weathersbee.

The newspaper's editorial came as Gary was attacking Weathersbee's handling of property forfeitures in drug cases. Mullady said Gary was hoping to take over the forfeiture program, and set the stage for an election issue in the 1998 campaign.

The editorial in question said Gary "continues to feed county legal business" to Greiber, the lawsuit says.

In 1995, the Gary administration fired a law firm that specializes in insurance cases, and included a former Democratic senator as a partner, in favor of a firm that included Greiber to handle a lawsuit over who should pay for the Glen Burnie landfill cleanup.

Greiber also was paid by Gary to look into allegations regarding a 1989 pension enhancement for top county officials and did some work for the county's recreation authority.

The first witness in the trial appeared in videotaped testimony -- former Capital reporter Melinda Rice, who told of quitting her job after 10 weeks and destroying her notes related to a pending article on Greiber and Gary.

She said she considered her reporting incomplete and feared that if she wrote a draft of the article as ordered by an editor, it would get published.

Rice testified that she was working in fall 1997 to verify a tip from editors that the county yanked its bond work from a law firm Greiber had just left and gave it to a Baltimore firm with the understanding that he would do the work.

She said she had not found anything illegal or unethical, but that managing editor Tom Marquardt told her to write what she had even though she told him she was not done investigating.

"He told me he knew it was true and I should write it anyway," she testified.

She did not say that editors told her it would be published, however.

"He asked me to write up what I had anyway and we'd go from there," she testified under questioning by lawyers for both sides in Texas, where she is living and working as a free-lance writer.

Rice said she had a feeling the article would be published despite her doubts, so she quit and did not produce the draft.

No article on the subject broached in Rice's testimony appeared in the Capital.

She also testified that the newspaper's city editor, Stewart Samuels, told her Greiber was a "sleazebag" -- lending some support to Greiber's allegation in the lawsuit that he was disliked by the newspaper. But her testimony also offered a boost to the newspaper's contention that the editors wanted to see what information she had.

Gary is expected to testify for Greiber today. Greiber's lawyers also plan to call two men next week to testify that they did not bring legal work to Greiber as a result of the editorial.

The trial is expected to last about a week.

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