CLEVELAND (CN) – A state court judge demands $50 million from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, claiming it wrongfully exposed her and her daughter as the source of online comments about the judge’s cases, including a criminal prosecution over the murder of 11 women.
Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold and her daughter, Sydney, seek damages for fraud, defamation, tortious interference, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy.
The Saffolds sued in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas over a story by James McCarty in the Plain Dealer’s March 26 edition.
Named as defendants are the Plain Dealer Publishing Co., editor Susan Goldberg, and the companies that run the Cleveland.com Web site, which include Advance Publications. McCarty is not named as a defendant.
The Saffolds say McCarty identified them as the source of online comments posted by “lawmiss,” from Judge Saffold’s computer.
Some of the comments dealt with cases in Saffold’s court, including the pending case against Anthony Sowell, who has been accused of murdering 11 Cleveland women.
The Plain Dealer story reported that Judge Saffold denied making any of the comments about her cases, but that her daughter admitted making some of them.
A sidebar to the story, written by Henry Gomez, noted that the newspaper was in the midst of an “ethical dilemma.”
Gomez wrote: “Goldberg noted that comments made were not about ‘trifling’ matters. The posts related directly to two death-penalty cases involving Saffold as judge (Sowell’s and the 2008 murder trial of former Cleveland firefighter Terrance Hough Jr.) as well as a recent vehicular homicide case.”
Some of the comments by lawmiss included:
“All of these criminals committing crimes against women must stop. None of them should get out of prison, EVER.”
“Rufus Sims (lawyer of Sowell and of a bus driver convicted of vehicular homicide) did a disservice to his client. If only he could shut his Amos and Andy style mouth … This was not a tough case, folks. She should’ve hired a lawyer with the experience to truly handle her needs. Amos and Andy, shuffling around, did not do it.”
“I’m confused. There’s three stories. The first accuses Saffold of being a bully and demeaning the presence of this reporter for no reason. The second indicates that she refused to allow the Plain Dealer reporters to view the proceedings today, and the last indicates that the defense attorneys and the prosecutors agreed that the court needed to find out who the leak was, but they disagreed about the leaking spoiling the pool. What did Saffold do that was wrong??”
The Saffolds says McCarthy’s story reported that the investigation that traced “lawmiss” to the Saffolds’ America Online email address “represents a departure from the newspaper’s general practice of allowing commenters on Cleveland.com to remain anonymous.”
In addition to the privacy concerns, the Saffolds say the newspaper was not fair in its handling of online comments.
“Despite encouraging lively debate and opposing opinions, Defendants used tactics to discourage comments that opposed their editorial viewpoint, including, but not limited to selectively removing opinions that were not favorable to Defendants, and allowing personal attacks on their targets to remain,” the Saffolds say in the complaint.
According to the Saffolds, the newspaper searched for their identities in response to a lawmiss comment on the mental state of a relative of Plain Dealer reporter Jim Ewinger.
The Saffolds represented by Brian Spitz.
In an April 7 editorial, the Plain Dealer wrote that since Saffold has refused to remove herself from Sims’ cases, he should ask the Ohio Supreme Court to remove her.
“Let the high court decide whether it suspects improprieties,” the editors wrote.