MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The Shawano Leader did not defame former District Attorney Vincent Biskupic by quoting a woman as incorrectly stating that Biskupic had been convicted of “bribery and graft,” the Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled.
Judge Peterson said the former Outagamie County district attorney failed to show that the newspaper or the woman it quoted had acted with actual malice.
The offending article involved a state court’s decision to end the courts’ practice of ordering convicted criminals and potential defendants to pay prevention programs. – Stacey Cicero, executive director of a domestic abuse prevention organization called Safe Haven, stated that she thought the move had been prompted by the “bribery and graft cases” involving Biskupic. The reporter explained, erroneously, that Biskupic had been convicted of accepting bribes to dismiss cases.
Though evidence showed that Biskupic’s crime-prevention fund received some payments from defendants, the former district attorney was never sanctioned for it.
Cicero later admitted that she meant to name Winnebago County District Attorney Joe Paulus, who was convicted of accepting about $50,000 to fix cases.
The Shawano Leader printed a correction stating that the article – and Cicero’s quote – should have named Paulus, not Biskupic. The reporter said he got the additional information about Biskupic from Cicero, while Cicero chalked up her incorrect statement to a “brain lapse.”
Both the circuit court and the appellate court rejected Biskupic’s defamation claims.
As a public figure, Biskupic needed to prove actual malice, Peterson ruled, but the plaintiff could not do it.
He unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general in 2002.