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Edwards v. Paddock Publications

November 15, 2001

CHRISTOPHER M. EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PADDOCK PUBLICATIONS, INC., JOHN CARPENTER, ANNE BURRIS GASIOR, DOUGLAS RAY, JOHN LAMPINEN AND JEAN RUDOLPH, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97-L-7144 Honorable Deborah M. Dooling, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Theis

Modified upon denial of rehearing January 24, 2002.

CHRISTOPHER M. EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PADDOCK PUBLICATIONS, INC., JOHN CARPENTER, ANNE BURRIS GASIOR, DOUGLAS RAY, JOHN LAMPINEN AND JEAN RUDOLPH, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 97-L-7144 Honorable Deborah M. Dooling, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Theis

Plaintiff, Christopher M. Edwards, filed an action against defendants, Paddock Publications, Inc., the publisher of the Daily Herald, and several of its reporters and editors, alleging defamation and false light arising from certain newspaper articles that misidentified plaintiff as having been arrested in conjunction with a drug "bust" in the northwest suburbs. Defendants' theory of the case was that they received the misidentified information from the police and were therefore entitled to a fair report privilege. The trial court entered a directed verdict for defendants on plaintiff's negligence count and directed a verdict for three editor defendants on all other counts. After the jury answered "no" to a special interrogatory asking whether the police were the source of the misidentified information, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the remaining defendants on the remaining counts of the complaint.

Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred (1) in directing a verdict on the negligence count where plaintiff presented sufficient evidence for the jury to determine whether defendants failed to exercise reasonable care; (2) in allowing defendants to present the fair report privilege to the jury; (3) in submitting defendants' reckless disregard instruction to the jury; (4) in allowing certain documents bearing a photograph of plaintiff to be admitted into evidence; (5) in dismissing the editor defendants where plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that they acted with reckless disregard; (6) in allowing the introduction of undisclosed opinion testimony; (7) in denying plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint to seek punitive damages under its theory of false light; and (8) in failing to grant him a new trial where the jury's answer to the special interrogatory was inconsistent with the general verdict. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand for a new trial.

BACKGROUND

In 1990, the Illinois State Police entered into a joint undercover operation with the Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg police departments to combat the growing gang problem in the northwest suburbs. The operation was dubbed "Operation Erinnyes" (Operation) after the three crime-avenging sisters in Greek mythology, also known as the Furies. Defendant Anne Gasior was a features reporter for the Daily Herald newspaper (the Herald) who, upon learning of the investigation, gained approval for herself and other staff reporters to participate in the operation and accompany police on undercover assignments. She proposed to her editors, defendants Jean Rudolph and John Lampinen, to write a number of articles on the operation, focusing on the arrests and the growing gang problem. Defendant John Carpenter, a reporter in the news department, was also assigned to cover the project.

As the operation progressed, Gasior and Carpenter received a number of oral briefings and interviewed participating officers regarding the suspects, including Christopher Edwards. On occasion, they would accompany the police on surveillance during undercover drug purchases. However, it was understood that none of the information acquired would be published until after the suspects were arrested. At some point early in the investigation, Carpenter found a photograph of a Christopher Edwards in the Hoffman Estates High School yearbook and showed it to Gasior. It was the only Christopher Edwards depicted in the yearbook. The book also included information about him as a star football player and member of the homecoming king's court. Gasior and Carpenter never asked the police officers involved in the Operation to verify that the yearbook photograph was of the correct suspect. It was that photograph of plaintiff that was ultimately published in the Herald in connection with the arrest of Christopher A. Edwards on felony drug charges.

As the impending arrest date approached, the police were assembling documents needed to assist the arresting officers. Elizabeth Calhane, an intelligence analyst for the Illinois State Police, testified that it was her responsibility to prepare an intelligence data sheet on each criminal suspect as the Operation unfolded. In addition to information regarding the suspect's name, address, and other vital statistics, the data sheet included a space for a photograph. These data sheets were not public records. Included at the bottom of the sheet was a disclaimer, "-NOT FOR DISSEMINATION-."

Calhane testified that on March 25, 1991, in anticipation of a briefing to be held the following day, she prepared the intelligence data sheets for all 32 suspects, including a data sheet for Christopher A. Edwards which contained his photograph. She then compiled a packet of information concerning each suspect, referred to at trial as an arrest packet. Additionally, she may have compiled a packet of data sheets for all 32 suspects, referred to as an informational packet, but did not recall doing it. While Calhane testified that she did not prepare a data sheet with plaintiff's photograph on it, and that nothing left her office with plaintiff's photograph on it, she did not know what happened to the documents she prepared after she gave them to her supervisor, Captain Robert Johnson of the Illinois State Police.

In assembling information, Officer Michael Hish of the Hoffman Estates police department testified that on March 11, 1991, he took a photograph of Christopher A. Edwards when he came to the station to file a battery complaint. Hish sent that photograph to the Illinois State Police. While Hish had previously stated under oath that someone from the Hoffman Estates police department had also sent the State Police a yearbook photograph of plaintiff, he had no independent recollection of that at trial.

In the early morning hours of March 26, 1991, a prearrest meeting was held at the Schaumburg police department where the leaders of Operation Erinnyes briefed the teams of field officers who would be making arrests later in the day. Much of the testimony at trial revolved around determining who was present at that briefing, what information was disseminated there, and to whom it was disseminated. The testimony was conflicting and involved the ...


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