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Prosecutor Claims Newspaper Defamed Her

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A county prosecutor claims Utah's largest newspaper, the Salt Lake Tribune, defamed her in an "uninvestigated report" that falsely accused her of making racially charged comments about a candidate for district attorney, and that the Tribune did it "to manipulate the 2010 election" and boost the Democrat's run for office.

Michaela Andruzzi sued the Salt Lake Tribune and its corporate parent, MediaNews Group, in Salt lake County Court. She says she was demoted after the story came out, even though the Tribune eventually acknowledged that the harmful allegations in it were untrue.

Andruzzi says the Tribune published the harmful article 10 days before the election, and that it did so to boost the chances of the Democratic candidate over the Republican incumbent.

Andruzzi, a Salt Lake County prosecutor for "several years," was head of the office's domestic violence team, which held a meeting on Sept. 22, 2010.

"Unknown by the plaintiffs, allegations were made after this meeting by Mary Bennett, a legal secretary, and Sonja Kingery, a paralegal, that the unit chief [Andruzzi] and three deputy district attorneys violated procedures by making discriminatory remarks about the candidate for Salt Lake County district attorney, Simarjit Gill," the complaint states. "Mr. Gill, a Democrat, was running for the DA position against the incumbent, Lora Miller, a Republican.

"For some reason, Ms. Bennett and Ms. Kingery did not file the formal complaint, but used Pam Stam, the office manager, and Cindy Westover, the office supervisor, as their agents to file the complaint."

Stam is the daughter of Gene Davis, a Democratic state senator who was an "ardent supporter" of Gill, the complaint states.

The complaint against Andruzzi and the other prosecutors was submitted to Linda Hill and Karen Schefski, both of whom are EEO analysts, Andruzzi says. She says Stam and Westover both requested whistleblower protection.

None of the individuals are named as parties; the only defendants are the newspaper companies.

Andruzzi claims, "Without checking facts nor doing its due diligence, on Oct. 23, 2010, just 10 days before the election, the Tribune ran a false story about Ms. Andruzzi, claiming that she made racist remarks and that she led a prosecutorial team that was intimidating to people and that a culture of racism existed in that office.

"According to information and belief, The Salt Lake Tribune conspired to use the false statements to run a libelous story to manipulate the 2010 election, so that Sim Gill, a Democrat, would become the new Salt Lake County District Attorney.

"Immediately after the uninvestigated news report came out in the Tribune story, a firestorm of negative opinion in the community took place against Ms. Andruzzi."

Andruzzi says that in the article at issue, the Tribune "allowed Mr. Gill to opine about the uninvestigated claims against Ms. Andruzzi, wherein he stated that 'he has never allowed racist remarks to derail his aspirations to achieve the American dream.'"

On Dec. 1 - after Gill won the DA election - "the final administrative investigation report was submitted by Ms. Hill and Ms. Schefski, exonerating Ms. Andruzzi and her domestic violence team of any wrongdoing," the complaint states.

On Dec. 4, Andruzzi says, the Tribune printed another story, "stating 'There was no evidence presented that racial or ethnic comments have been made by members of the domestic violence team.' Unfortunately the damage was already done against Ms. Andruzzi, in that her reputation and standing in the legal community, and community at large, had been ruined by the uninvestigated false report."

She adds: "Since the article defaming the plaintiff has come out, Salt Lake County has demoted Ms. Andruzzi, and her prospects for future job enhancements have been curtailed."

Andruzzi seeks punitive damages for libel.

She is represented by Jay Kessler, of Magna, Utah.

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