Can’t Prove Singer’s Reasons for Suicide, Judge Says


     (CN) – A judge tossed rocker Tom Scholz’s defamation claims against the Boston Herald and two columnists who blamed him for the suicide of his onetime bandmate, Boston lead singer Brad Delp.
     Columnists Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa allegedly used “fabricated” quotes from Delp’s ex-wife in an article titled “Pal’s Snub Made Delp Do It,” published one week after Delp committed suicide, in March 2007.
     That article and others published by the Herald columnists falsely claimed that Micki Delp said her ex-husband “was driven to despair” by “a dysfunctional professional life that ultimately led to the sensitive frontman’s suicide.”
     Micki Delp denied making two of the statements that were “quoted” in the article, in official testimony in 2008, Scholz said.
     Scholz sued for defamation in 2010.
     But Suffolk County Judge Frances McIntyre found that the columnists’ “insinuated” opinions warranted dismissal of Scholz’s claims.
     “Suicide is a tragedy for many reasons, one being the lingering question of why? with which the survivors must grapple. No one ever knows what actually motivated the person – in that last tortured moment – to end his life. Here, the defendants published the opinions of others and insinuated their own as to why Brad Delp killed himself,” McIntyre wrote.
     “While such opinions may have abounded at the time, Delp’s final mental state is truly unknowable; it can never be objectively verified. The law dictates that defamation will only lie against a media defendant where the falsity of an assertion can be proven. Despite the amassing of powerful evidence of Delp’s mental state, the plaintiffs cannot prove or disprove the actual cause of his suicide. That secret went to the grave with him. Any views on the subject would necessarily be opinions.”
     “Defamation redresses the publication of false facts. An opinion cannot be false; the free expression of opinion on any matter of public interest is constitutionally protected by the First Amendment. Therefore, the publication by these media defendants of their opinion about the cause of Delp’s suicide is not vulnerable to a claim of defamation. For this reason, summary judgment is granted to the defendants on both counts,” McIntyre added in the 24-page ruling.
     The columnists said Brad Delp “was caught in the middle of the warring factions” as a result, and that the band’s breakup “reportedly drove singer Delp to take his own life.”
     Fee and Raposa quoted Micki Delp as having said that Brad Delp “was upset over lingering bad feelings from the ugly breakup of the band Boston over 20 years ago,” according to the ruling.
     “This court concludes that no reasonable reader would understand that the insinuation running through all three articles that the plaintiff was responsible for Brad Delp’s suicide was an assertion of fact,” McIntyre wrote. “Any reader would reasonably take this assertion to be an opinion on the mental state of a now-deceased person,” McIntyre wrote.
     Scholz, an M.I.T.-educated engineer, founded Boston in 1976. The classic rock group’s self-titled debut was certified as selling 17-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, in 2003.
     Scholz also sued Micki Delp and her sister, Connie Goudreau, for defamation, in 2008. That lawsuit is still pending.

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