Tuesday, April 27, 1999

Lawyer: Were reports true?


Reader asks court to force former reporter to talk

BY DAN HORN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If a local attorney gets his way, a former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter will have to explain in court whether he told the truth in his articles about Chiquita Brands International Inc.

        The attorney, Richard Magnus, asked a judge Monday to require Michael Gallagher to discuss his articles as a condition of his probation.

        In a letter to Judge Richard Niehaus, Mr. Magnus said he and other Enquirer readers have a right to know if the articles about Chiquita's business practices were accurate.

        He said Mr. Gallagher should be ordered to explain whether the articles are true, even if some of the information came from voice-mail tapes stolen from Chiquita executives.

        The Enquirer renounced the articles in a front-page apology last year, paid Chiquita more than $10 million and accused Mr. Gallagher of deceiving his editors about how he obtained the voice mails.

        “As one of many thousands of Greater Cincinnatians who bought those editions of the Enquirer and read the articles, I was left not knowing which of the allegations were true and which were not,” Mr. Magnus wrote in his letter.

        Mr. Magnus, who is not involved in the case, said he is entitled to know because he is a customer of the newspaper and relied upon it for accurate information. Under Ohio law, anyone who believes he is a victim of a crime may send letters to the judge about the case.

        Mr. Magnus said the Enquirer's legal settlement with Chiquita may have limited the newspaper's liability, but it raised serious questions about the articles.

        “The Enquirer, in an effort to reduce its victimization, victimized its readers,” he said Monday.

        Judge Niehaus said there is legal precedent to support claims by “indirect victims,” but he did not know whether it would apply to this case. “We have to consider it,” Judge Niehaus said. “He's claiming he was defrauded as a reader.”

        The judge said he would discuss the issue with Mr. Gallagher's attorney and the special prosecutor on the case. Neither could be reached for comment Monday.

        Mr. Magnus' letter states that Mr. Gallagher should be required to provide a written statement explaining “each fact alleged in the articles.” He said the statement should detail whether those facts are verifiable, unverifiable, known to be false or believed to be true based on illegally obtained information.

        Mr. Gallagher, who was fired, has pleaded guilty to two charges of illegally accessing Chiquita's voice-mail system. The judge has said the charges carry a presumption of probation.

        Mr. Gallagher is cooperating with prosecutors and has agreed to testify against George Ventura, a former Chiquita lawyer who is accused of giving the reporter the codes needed to access the system.

        Mr. Gallagher is scheduled for sentencing before Judge Niehaus in two weeks.

       



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