DEFAMATION SUIT VS CRIME TIMES

http://www.readthehook.com/104973/picture-man-sues-crime-times-over-mugshot-mistake

The Hook – Charlottesville’s weekly newspaper, news magazine

Picture this: Man sues ‘Crime Times’ over mugshot mistake

By Courteney Stuart | stuart@readthehook.com

Published online 5:12pm Thursday Jul 26th, 2012

Four months after Crime Times erroneously labeled him a felon who’d been charged with gun offenses, J.T. Suddarth has sued the mugshot mag’s owners.

There’s little doubt that Crime Times has embarrassed plenty of people, but one man whose image appeared in the pages of the mugshot magazine after a misdemeanor arrest says the publication did more than humiliate him. In a lawsuit filed in Albemarle County Circuit Court against the Crime Times owners, James T. Suddarth claims his reputation was damaged when, in the March 20 edition, he was erroneously labeled a felon who’d been arrested on multiple gun charges.

The suit describes the published misinformation as “character assassination” and accuses father-and-son owners, Wade and Brad McMurray, of defamation for claiming in print that Suddarth, a 46-year-old used car salesperson who says he’d never been arrested prior to the misdemeanor, a DUI, was a convicted felon who’d rung up a trio of charges for, among other things, firing a gun into a building.

While the paper ran a retraction in the following week’s edition, Suddarth contended that it didn’t go far enough. Suddarth’s attorney, Dustin Rosser, says his client deserves compensation.

“We’re talking about damage to his reputation. What’s that worth?” asks Rosser, noting that while many lawsuits ask for millions, Suddarth’s demand for $100,000 is reasonable.

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“He’s not looking to ruin anyone or shut down the thing,” says Rosser, “but he does think they should pay a price.”

Hook legal analyst David Heilberg says defamation cases can be difficult to win, but he sees wisdom in setting the demand at six figures.

“If you sue for an unrealistic amount, that does seem like you care more about the money than about stopping the behavior,” notes Heilberg, adding that defamation cases are, generally speaking, more about principles than money.

Just filing the suit presented some challenges, Rosser says, noting that the first complaint, filed May 22, named Crime Times LLC as a defendant when, in fact, that mugshot magazine company, which is based in the southwest Virginia town of Hiltons, is a different entity.

“We had a hard time tracking them down,” says Rosser of the McMurrays, noting that there is neither an address nor a phone number published in the local Crime Times, which doesn’t appear to be incorporated. In late April, McMurray told a reporter that he doesn’t publish a phone number to eliminate allegedly frequent middle-of-the-night complaints.

Attempting to get a comment for this story, a reporter emailed and called the cellphone number that Brad McMurray provided for interviews for previous articles, but the messages went unreturned. In a pre-suit interview, he indicated that the misinformation about Suddarth, who ended up getting convicted of misdemeanor DUI, was not particularly troubling.

“Of the thousands of people that have been in the paper, I think getting one drunk-driving used car salesman upset isn’t bad,” McMurray wrote in an email. “If Mr. Suddarth doesn’t care about endangering people’s lives by driving drunk, I don’t care that his family is upset and wants to direct their anger anywhere but where it belongs.”

After this story was posted, Wade McMurray responded by email to what he described as his son’s “rash remark.”

“Just like Mr. Suddarth I have sold cars, new and used, to support my family. This profession is just as dignified and necessary as any other and I am sure Mr. Suddarth is a fine salesman,” he wrote, offering an apology to “Mr. Suddarth and anyone else that might have taken offense.”

Attorney Rosser says he tracked the McMurrays to a Tennessee address and recently spoke with Wade McMurray to alert him to the suit, which will likely be served on the McMurrays in the next week. Because Crime Times is not incorporated, Rosser says, the publication itself has been dropped as a defendant, although its owners remain.

“We’re confident that a jury in Albemarle County will be sympathetic to what Crime Times put Mr. Suddarth through,” says Rosser.

–Story updated Friday, July 27 at 12:20pm with response from Wade McMurray.

5

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11 comments
George Jefferson July 26th, 2012 | 5:53pm
That paper is worse than the Cville.

I Love C-Ville July 26th, 2012 | 6:58pm
absolute gossip rag…who buys that garbage? You could be totally innocent and be pictured in it.

Slav July 26th, 2012 | 6:59pm
You can ask for whatever you want but likely they won’t be able to prove damages. In addition, crime times files a retraction quickly just as other publications do. The issue here isn’t if a mistake was made or not, mistakes happen. The real issue here is if it was intentional and did Crime Times single him out. Evidence clearly shows the opposite. If I was on that jury that would be case dismissed.

local 42 July 26th, 2012 | 7:26pm
trash geared for trash, that is what this ridiculous waste of paper truly is and it saddens me that people around hear will buy this junk.

backwoodssouthernlawyer July 27th, 2012 | 7:32am
On the other hand, it is a great way to keep up with your friends from high school.

leddedup July 27th, 2012 | 9:00am
I heard Suddarth has a page on the local tea party website and that he shot up a movie theater. Oh wait, wrong Suddarth? The Crime Times sincerely apologizes for the mistaken report.

This was a classic line though:
“Of the thousands of people that have been in the paper, I think getting one drunk-driving used car salesman upset isn’t bad,” McMurray wrote in an email. “If Mr. Suddarth doesn’t care about endangering people’s lives by driving drunk, I don’t care that his family is upset and wants to direct their anger anywhere but where it belongs.”

Fierce!

VA Gal July 27th, 2012 | 1:24pm
I’m not ashamed to admit, I buy one every week. I want to see who has been arrested.

I Am The Walrus July 28th, 2012 | 6:28am
I wonder how much this legal defense is going to cost, and it will be really interesting to see how they plan to win this considering, the defendant did not lose his job, so where is any financial loss. Probably didn’t exactly have a shining reputation to “ruin” begin with, and how does he plan to prove it was allegedly “ruined”. Crime Times, I am pretty sure did not single out this guy for any reason, and it was a mistake, and not done with “malice”, a retraction was printed the very next issue,,.that said, I really don’t see much of a law suit here. Furthermore, the comments made by Mr McMurray about the whole “used car salesman” bit, states it was sent in and email, most likely correspondence between himself and the reporter, and was never intended to be part of the “story” or “interview” but it got published anyway,,not putting himself in the best of light,,so should he be suing the hook? And, IF Mr S were to win in court and claim the funds they are suing for, this sure makes getting a DUI worthwhile for him eh??
Mistakes HAPPEN. I am sure Mr Suddarth wants to be forgiven for his “mistake” of boozing it up and driving, so why should Crime Times have to pay for a typo,,,yes, a pretty embarrassing one, but a mistake none the less and especially 100k,,seriously??. This whole thing is nothing more than a convenient reason to try for financial gain over something that should have just been forgotten about.
Personally, with all the publicity from the Hook, I think he (Suddarth) has done nothing more than make SURE EVERYONE knows now that he drinks in excess and drives…Shining reputation. Tisk tisk,,

Max Frisson July 29th, 2012 | 8:21pm
It wasn’t the DUI but the irresponsible inaccuracy of false charges they reported that will end up costing the publishers.

That something like CrimeTimes exists is perfectly good reason to sue. Many cities 5 times the size of C’ville don’t have as many magazines and newspapers as there are around Albermarle County. But it’s still mostly small town gossip.

red nuckleberry July 30th, 2012 | 7:29pm
@ I Am The Walrus:
A “typo” has more meaning and repercussion in a “paper” that shows our neighbors faces with crimes attached. perhaps the paper should be held to a high standard because defamation through carelessness is easy to imagine.

Liberalace August 1st, 2012 | 10:36am
Only a used car salesman (oops, and a politician) would have the audacity (not of “hope”) to parade his face around to the press after pleading guilty to DUI. He actually shames the shamed with his campaign. Frankly, I find DUIs more pernicious that firing a gun in an occupied building; the latter happens routinely in these here parts.

R.I.P.: Buddy Ebsen

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