Professor's suit against private Chicago student paper seeks thousands in damages

ILLINOIS — A former professor at the University of Illinois atChicago filed a defamation lawsuit Friday over an article that ran in thestudent newspaper, The Flame.

Rodrigo Carraminana filed a lawsuit against Malone Communications, Inc.,the private publisher of The Flame, and Gregory Royal Pratt, former newseditor and author of the article.

The May 2010 article, “Corruption in cultural center; Universityaudit report kept quiet,” extensively cited an audit report by theuniversity, which alleged several acts of wrongdoing while Carraminana wasdirector of the Latino Cultural Center at UIC.

The audit claims Carraminana “used $28,741 of university funds for’unexplained’ purposes with ‘no legitimate University businessbehind them,'” according to the newspaper’s story.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses the defendants ofdefamation and false light invasion of privacy. Carraminana is seeking more than$50,000 in damages per claim.

“The Statements were published with actual malice in that Pratt andMalone either knew that the statements were false or acted with a recklessdisregard of the truth or falsity of the statements,” according to thecomplaint.

The complaint also states the newspaper was told that university policeinvestigated Carraminana and cleared him of any wrongdoing, but “failed toacknowledge that the UIC police investigation exculpating Carraminanaoccurred.” The article did not quote university police, but Carraminanawas quoted saying, “The UIC police investigated every charge and did notfind any illegal action from me neither that I was conducting business from myoffice [sic].”

The complaint also highlights the fact the article only used”portions of the audit report” and “stated subjective doubt ofthe truth of the Statements,” by using qualifierssuch as, “if the university report is accurate.”

Pratt declined to comment on the advice of his attorney.

Publisher Maggie Malone referred questions to the paper’s attorney,David Hundley. Hundley could not be reached for comment.

Carraminana’s attorney, Phillip Zisook, said he did not have time tocomment by press time.

Frank LoMonte, an attorney and executive director of the Student Press LawCenter, said it is very hard to be sued by quoting a public document.

“You can’t be successfully sued for doing nothing more thanaccurately quoting a public document,” he said.

He said it is possible, however, to be held liable if a storymischaracterizes or portrays someone in an inaccurate light.

“I think some of the allegations [in the complaint] are flat outerroneous,” he said.

Specifically, LoMonte cited the claim that the police investigationclearing Carraminana was not included in the article. The story does in factinclude a quote from Carraminana about the investigation.

LoMonte said the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that if thepaper had had the entire audit, it would have painted a different picture.