Judge tosses $50 million defamation suit against The Eagle

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PITTSFIELD — "Simply stated, The Berkshire Eagle accurately reported the events."

So said Judge John Agostini in his four-page decision dismissing a $50 million defamation suit filed against the paper by a former City Council candidate.

The civil suit by Craig C. Gaetani claims an Oct. 24 article was defamatory; it named The Eagle, its publisher, Fredric Rutberg, and reporter Amanda Drane as defendants.

"Obviously, I am pleased with the result, but I am most pleased that the judge found that 'The Berkshire Eagle accurately reported the events'," Rutberg said Tuesday. "That is our job, and Amanda Drane did it well."

A message left at Gaetani's home number Tuesday morning was not returned.

Gaetani had taken issue with the article's final two paragraphs, which described an encounter in the parking lot following a candidate's forum in which he participated.

After the forum, Gaetani was approached by a man who recommended he not drive home, saying he smelled alcohol on his breath — an exchange that was witnessed by Drane. Gaetani dismissed the man's concerns and drove away.

In court filings and during oral arguments defending his suit in Berkshire Superior Court on Jan. 22, Gaetani did not dispute the accuracy of Drane's article, but gave the same account of that night's events.

"In comparing the article with Gaetani's version of events, it is evident that the article was accurate; in fact, the description of the events in the two documents is almost identical," Agostini wrote in his decision.

The judge also noted Pittsfield Police did receive a call that evening regarding concerns about Gaetani's ability to drive, which Agostini said underscored the seriousness of those concerns.

Agostini also addressed Gaetani's concern that the publication of the article and its accurate account of the parking lot incident cost him the election for an at large City Council seat.

"Whether it did or not is not relevant," Agostini wrote. "The only issue is whether it was false, or in the street vernacular, 'fake news.' "

"Given that [Gaetani] admitted that the newspaper account was accurate, no claim of defamation will lie and the complaint must be dismissed," he wrote.

Reach Bob Dunn at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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