Former St. Cloud State dean appeals libel suit decision

MINNESOTA — A former St. Cloud State University dean has appealed a state court’s dismissal of a libel lawsuit he brought against the Chronicle, the school’s student newspaper, a local television station has reported.

According to an article appearing on local CBS affiliate WCCO’s Web site, Richard D. Lewis, former dean of St. Cloud State’s College of Social Sciences, filed an appeal Dec. 4, 2006, with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Lewis’ original suit claimed that the student newspaper libeled him in the fall of 2003 when it published comments from a former student that suggested he was anti-Semitic and a racist.

Lewis’ lawyer, Marshall Tanick, confirmed that an appeal had been filed and that they “hope to have a hearing or ruling in the year 2007.”

Following a settlement of a lawsuit involving Jewish faculty members in fall 2003, the university reassigned Lewis from his position as dean. The Chronicle published an article Oct. 27, 2003 chronicling Lewis’ troubles and he sued the newspaper, claiming comments made in the article by former student Robbi Hoy, who claimed she overheard Lewis making racial and derogatory comments, were libelous.

Hoy later told the Chronicle that the remarks she heard came from another professor, not Lewis. The newspaper published a retraction in November 2003, but Lewis continued his libel suit.

A court ruled in October that although the comments published were admittedly wrong, the former dean is a public figure and could not prove the newspaper published the comments knowing they were incorrect, which the “actual malice” legal standard requires.

By Scott Sternberg, SPLC staff writer

Lewis v. University Chronicle, No. CX-05-5539 (Minn. Dist. Ct. Stearns Co. Oct. 24, 2006).