MASSACHUSETTS — A Salem State College professor fileda libel suit against the editor of the school newspaper in Decemberafter he supposedly published false information about him. Ed Justen, editor of The Log student paper, along withLog adviser Ellen Golub and the university itself, arethe focus of political science professor Adeleke Atewologun’slawsuit.
According to court records, Atewologun is accusing Justen ofprinting false information about him in The Log. Specifically,Atewologun claims Justin defamed him in a December 11 articleabout a sexual harassment charge in which Justen said Atewologunwas arrested in 1993 on a domestic violence abuse charge.
Atewologun, who says the report of his arrest for domesticviolence was false, is suing the defendants for $216,000 in damages,claiming that his reputation was ruined after publication of thearticle.
Justen, who wrote the article after receiving information froma confidential source, denied any wrongdoing.
"I believe my source to be very credible," he said.
According to John Albano, Justen’s attorney, although Atewologunwas not formally arrested, he was removed from his home and arestraining order was placed on him for domestic violence in 1994.
‘The gist of the article that there had been a brush with thelaw at his home, at which police had been called, is true,"Albano said.
"The First Amendment does not require that every detailof every report be accurate in order to save someone from a libelcase," he added.
Albano said Justen believed he was reporting the incident accurately,which Albano said is a "critical part" of the defensethat the First Amendment provides.
In addition, Albano believes Atewologun should be considereda public figure for the purpose of the case. Public figures mustprove a higher level of fault on the part of journalists thanprivate persons. Generally, they must show that the person whois accused of libel either knew the published information wasfalse or was reckless in determining its accuracy.
"Mr. Atewologun is a pretty well-known figure in SalemState circles," Albano said. "It seems to me the extentto which he’s been an active participant in controversies relatingto the school will make him a public figure."
At the time the article was printed, Justen was reporting onongoing legal troubles surrounding Atewologun. The story’s mainfocus discussed two sexual harassment charges filed against Atewologunby former Salem State students.
"It was important to run the story," Justen said."I mean, we have a teacher on campus who has a record that’spretty questionable as far as home life. Plus, on top of thatthere is a history of litigation against him for sexual harassmenton campus. We almost felt it was a public safety issue, and that’swhy we decided to go with the story."