The former president of the Manheim Township school board has sued LNP Media Group, its executive editor and two reporters for libel, alleging they ruined his reputation last year with articles and editorials that he claims falsely accused him of violating the state’s open meetings law.
William Murry, in a 15-page, three-count civil complaint filed in county court Tuesday, claims the newspaper intentionally worked to defame him to “drive the sale of newspapers and digital revenue.”
Robert M. Krasne, the chief executive officer of Steinman Communications and chairman and publisher of LNP Media Group Inc., which publishes LNP, called Murry’s claims baseless and said the newspaper will vigorously defend itself and its reporters.
“As the leading source of news and information for Lancaster County, we at LNP take our responsibilities seriously. Our communities want us to hold all levels of government, and all government officials accountable to the citizens they are elected to serve,” Krasne said.
Murry’s complaint alleges defamatory statements in five news stories and an editorial published in January and February 2016.
The reporting scrutinized closed-door meetings at which Murry and some school board members discussed the resignation of superintendent John Nodecker and his severance agreement.
Several of the articles referenced a Jan. 28 meeting that was secretly audiotaped by an unknown party. After LNP received an unsolicited copy of the audiotape, it printed excerpts of the taped board discussion.
The complaint states that both the Lancaster County district attorney and the state attorney general investigated allegations of Sunshine Law violations but did not bring charges.
It also alleges the secret taping of the meeting broke the law.
Murry claims in the suit that he suffered “humiliation and embarrassment as well as verbal and written personal attacks from the public.” The complaint states his business suffered irreparable harm
“This is a cautionary story of what happens when a newspaper irresponsibly fictionalizes ‘news’ to generate readership, and how easy it is for the press to abuse power pursuing a commercial agenda, and in the process ruin a person’s name and reputation,” the complaint states. “In a shameful pursuit of ad dollars, LNP has misled the public and has knowingly violated the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act in its effort to destroy the reputation of Murry and the school board.”
Murry is seeking unspecified monetary damages, punitive damages, a retraction and removal of the stories from LancasterOnline.
“LNP believes that the claims asserted against us by Mr. Murry in his suit that arise out of his actions while he was president of the Manheim Township school board are baseless, show an ignorance of and offend free press principles and protections of the First Amendment, and we will vigorously defend against them,” Krasne said.
“LNP will not waver from this commitment and we will use all tools available to our journalists that are guaranteed by the First Amendment and other applicable law,” he said. “Our integrity as a reliable news source, particularly in these times, and our obligation to our readers demands it.”
Named in the suit are Barbara Hough Roda, LNP executive editor, and staff writers Susan Baldrige and Kara Newhouse.