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Judge Refuses to Lessen $34 Million Award Against Inquirer

September 10, 1992

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A judge has refused to overturn or reduce a $34 million libel award against The Philadelphia Inquirer for articles written about a former prosecutor 19 years ago.

The newspaper said it would appeal.

Common Pleas Court Judge Charles P. Mirarchi Jr. this week also refused to order a new trial for the lawsuit, first filed by lawyer Richard A. Sprague in 1973. A jury awarded the $34 million in 1990 in the second trial on the case.

Sprague said Wednesday the judge’s ruling ″shows that he concurs as a matter of law that the action by the Inquirer not only was defamatory but was done for such a malicious purpose that the only way to teach the Inquirer a lesson is to impose punitive damages on them.″

Editor Maxwell E.P. King said he was confident his newspaper would win on appeal.

″This is a case that raises important free press issues,″ King said.

This will be the second round of appeals for the case. In 1988, the state Supreme Court overturned a jury’s $4.5 million award from the first trial, held in 1983, and ordered a new trial.

Sprague’s lawsuit was over several stories, especially a front-page story on April 1, 1973, that questioned whether he had quashed an investigation in 1963 as a favor for a friend, a former state police commissioner. Sprague is a former homicide prosecutor.

In its appeal, the Inquirer said Mirarchi erred in excluding defense evidence and in allowing Sprague to introduce medical records of one of the article’s authors, Greg Walter, who died in 1989.

Mirarchi’s one-page ruling Tuesday denied all motions without explanation, including Sprague’s request for interest on the $34 million going back to 1973.

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