Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla has pushed off a case management conference to May as he considers a summary judgment move made by the owner of the Alton Telegraph in a defamation suit.

Hylla heard arguments on the motion filed by Freedom Communications and reporter Linda Weller March 2.

The judge continued the case management conference in the suit 28 days later.

Plaintiff Charles Bonnell is suing Freedom and Weller for allegedly defaming him in an article Weller wrote following an Alton fire.

Bonnell claims that the paper and Weller damaged his reputation when they wrongly attributed ownership of the building where the fire took place to him, citing records from the Madison County Assessor's Office.

The suit seeks in excess of $1.1 million dollars in actual and punitive damages.

According to Freedom's brief in support of its summary judgment claims, the statements made by Alton fire officials and Weller's other reporting are protected.

The defendants also argue that the statements about the building's ownership cannot be construed as defamatory.

"Nothing in the article implicates Plaintiff in any criminal activity, and Plaintiff's attempt to bootstrap the statement of ownership in the Article into a defamation claim by pointing to language elsewhere calling the fire 'suspicious' fails as a matter of law," the motion argues. "The natural and obvious reading of the statements at issue is plainly innocent and, therefore, non-actionable."

The new case management date is set May 25.

Thomas Stewart represents the defendants.

Bernard Ysursa represents Bonnell.

The case is Madison case number 09-L-751.

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