Ultimatum Withdrawn, Judge Tells Defamed Profs

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal judge has revisited his offer to either slash a $5 million defamation award to $400,000, or let the two law professors who won the verdict retry their defamation case against Thomson West. But neither the professors nor West are getting exactly what they demanded.
     Senior U.S. District Judge John Fullam ruled Wednesday that he never should have given the professors an option of taking $200,000 apiece or retrying their case. His latest decision simply enters the newly reduced judgment for professors David Rudovsky and Leonard Sosnov.
     A jury had granted the men $2.5 million each in punitive damages, plus $90,000 apiece in compensatory damages, at the conclusion of a four-day trial in December. The court held that West sloppily threw together an addendum to the professors' 1988 guide on Pennsylvania Criminal Procedure, and then maliciously misattributed that shoddy supplement to the professors.
     "According to the plaintiffs, since the reduction was predicated upon the Court's belief that the jury's punitive damage award exceeded permissible constitutional limits (rather than being based on a purported lack of evidence), the Court should have simply entered a judgment in the reduced amount," Fullam wrote. "The net effect would be that either side could appeal the judgment. I agree that this would have been the favorable course, and will grant the motion for reconsideration."
     In the professors' motion for reconsideration, which they filed last week, they asked Fullam to uphold the entire $5 million award or to grant them the maximum amount of punitive damages permitted by the Constitution - "an amount that is far in excess of $110,000 per plaintiff," they said.
     West filed a motion for reconsideration as well on Tuesday. The publisher asked Fullam to either dismiss the entire case in West's favor with prejudice or certify an interlocutory appeal. Fullam dismissed this motion as moot in his latest order.
     With the 89-year-old judge set to retire Friday, this ruling is among the last in a four-decade tenure on the federal bench that has seen its share of controversy.