State high court agrees to review 'butt-licking' suit against paper

VIRGINIA — The state supreme court decided Sept. 4 to consider the appeal of a Virginia Tech administrator who brought a libel lawsuit against the student newspaper. The newspaper had identified the administrator as the “Director of Butt Licking.”Sharon Yeagle filed the original lawsuit in 1996 after the Collegiate Times printed her name and the fictitious title under a pull-quote in a newspaper story.Then editor in chief of the Collegiate Times, Katy Sinclair, said the use of the title was a mistake that occurred because the paper used “dummy copy” stored on the computer templates without changing the copy. Yeagle was identified by her correct title, assistant to the vice president for student affairs, in the text of the story.The lawsuit was dismissed by a Virginia court early in 1997 when the court found that the title was not defamatory. The court stated that no reasonable person would interpret the title as “accus[ing] Ms. Yeagle of committing any crime, much less any ‘crime against nature.'”The Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, but only on the issue of whether “the trial court erred in holding the fictitious title was not capable of conveying a defamatory meaning.”James Creekmore, attorney for the Collegiate Times, said the court has not set a date for the appeal hearing.”We are firm on our position,” Creekmore said, “and we will put that before the [Virginia] Supreme Court and hope they make the same decision the tribunal court made.”The Student Press Law Center and other First Amendment organizations filed a friend of the court brief supporting the lower court’s ruling.