Newspaper Cleared After Skewering NY Teacher

     (CN) – A newspaper did not libel a teacher by incorrectly reporting that he used students’ money to buy an air conditioner for the faculty, a New York appeals court ruled.
     Gerard Matovick, the former head of the English department at Miller Place High School, sued the Village Beacon Record over a story it published in 2004.
     The article stated that the Long Island teacher had charged students $5 for workbooks that taxpayers had already bought and used the money as a “slush fund for the English department.”
     Peter Mastrosimone, the reporter behind the article, also wrote that Matovick used the money for an air conditioner for the faculty room and for lunches for faculty meetings.
     Though a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge dismissed Matovick’s libel suit in 2006, the Appellate Division’s Second Department found that the paper did not establish an absolute defense of truth.
     The article gave the impression that Matovick only used the money to benefit the faculty, when “the evidence suggested that the plaintiff spent the money largely on books and other classroom supplies used by or for the students, and this fact would have significantly altered the conclusion drawn by the reader.”
     Justice Daniel Martin denied the defendants summary judgment last year, but the Brooklyn-based appellate court reversed this time in favor of the newspaper.
     Here, the reporter “did not act in a grossly irresponsible manner while gathering and verifying information for the article,” according to the July 3 ruling.
     “Mastrosimone verified a report from an anonymous source that the funds had been used for these expenses by contacting, among others, a school superintendent,” the unsigned opinion states. “Although it was later revealed that the air conditioner and faculty lunches were on a list of proposed expenses, and were never actually purchased with the workbook fees, we cannot say, under these circumstances, that Mastrosimone was grossly irresponsible.”

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