Record seeks dismissal of Peel's suit

Ann Knef Feb. 27, 2006, 5:20am

The Record newspaper and one of its reporters claim that a Madison County civil lawsuit brought by bankrupt attorney Gary Peel based on an article in the Record should be thrown out of court.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Peel filed against the newspaper, its reporter Steve Korris, his ex-wife Deborah J. Peel and son David Peel over an article published last year, attorneys for the Record and Korris also stress that the lawsuit does not allege the article was inaccurate.

"With good reason, the complaint does not allege that the article is inaccurate in any respect," the motion filed Feb. 24 states.

The case has been assigned to newly appointed Circuit Judge Lola Maddox.

According to Peel's complaint filed Jan. 20, the newspaper published "private facts" contained in an examination in Peel's bankruptcy case. Peel filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court in East St. Louis on July 22, 2005.

The article published Nov. 21, 2005, "Mermaid sculptures, $40k diamond--conveyances of love for bankrupt lawyer," quoted Peel's sworn testimony regarding the value of jewelry and other property he gave or conveyed for $1 to his current wife, Deborah Pontious Peel, before he filed bankruptcy and sought to be excused from financial obligations to his ex-wife under his divorce settlement.

"Gary Peel can't handle the truth," begins the brief filed in support of the motion to dismiss. "He filed this lawsuit about a newspaper article, but not because anything it said was untrue."

Peel's lawsuit claims the article quoted from an "uncorrected" transcript to which he later made revisions.

"...The complaint does not allege that any of those corrections related to information reported in the article," wrote attorneys with the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. The firm has been retained to defend the Record and Korris.

McDermott states that the First Amendment poses "formidable obstacles" to Peel's attempt to base a claim on accurate information published in a newspaper.

McDermott also argues that Peel's complaint fails to establish that the article contained private information and that such disclosure would be "highly offensive" to a reasonable person.

"Information disclosed in Peel's bankruptcy examination does not constitute private information on which a claim can be based," wrote McDermott. "Peel himself publicly disclosed information about those financial matters in his bankruptcy case, and he made no effort to preserve the confidentiality of the bankruptcy examination by seeking a protective order.

"Publication of limited, innocuous information about Peel's financial affairs would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person."

McDermott states that higher courts have ruled that a cause of action for publication of private facts is limited to "intimate secrets," such as abortion or mastectomy.

"Such information is light years from the mundane financial information involved here," McDermott wrote.

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