MASSACHUSETTS — Teachers suing students, a situation once consideredrare, is now becoming more common among high school and college studentsand faculty.
In one of the most recent cases, Salem State College professor AdelekeAtewologun sued student newspaper editor Ed Justen, newspaper adviser EllenGolub and the school itself in December claiming he was libeled in an articlein The Log that reported that he was arrested for domestic violence.
According to court records, Atewologun claims Justen defamed him ina December article about a sexual harassment charge in which Justen saidAtewologun was arrested in 1993 on a domestic abuse charge.
Atewologun, who denies all allegations, is suing for $216,000 in damages,claiming that his reputation was ruined as a result of the article.
“It is simply not true,” Atewologun said. “The tone of the article isdesigned to malign me, is designed to destroy my reputation, and it embarrassedmy kids.”
But Justen, who wrote the article after receiving information from aconfidential source, said he did nothing wrong.
According to John Albano, Justen’s attorney, although Atewologun wasnot formally arrested, he was removed from his home and a restraining orderwas placed on him for domestic violence in 1994.
“The gist of the article that there had been a brush with the law athis home at which police had been called is true,” Albano said. “The FirstAmendment does not require that every detail of every report be accuratein order to save someone from a libel case.”
Albano said a critical part of the defense that the First Amendmentprovides is whether the defendant believed he was reporting the incidentaccurately, which he said Justen did.
Albano also said Atewologun should be considered a public figure forthe purpose of the case.
“Mr. Atewologun is a pretty well-known figure in Salem State circles,”Albano said. “It seems to me the extent to which he’s been an active participantin controversies relating to the school will make him a public figure.”
Public figures must prove a higher level of fault on the part of journaliststhan private persons. Generally, they must show that the person who isaccused of libel either knew the published information was false or wasreckless in determining its accuracy.
Prior to the December 11 article, which led to the lawsuit, Justen hadreported on Atewologun’s ongoing legal troubles, including two sexual harassmentlawsuits filed by former Salem State students.