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ABA Publishes Bio to Settle Lawyer's Lawsuit

The American Bar Association's book division recently published Fearless: The Richard A. Sprague Story. The ABA calls the biography the chronicle of "the significant events of a renowned Philadelphia lawyer" and the "compelling story of a man who wasn't afraid to risk everything to fight for his fellow man."Amidst all this praise for the book, the ABA never mentions that it agreed to publish it only as part of a settlement of Sprague's libel lawsuit against it.

In a legal career that spanned more than five decades, Sprague became almost as much an institution in Philadelphia as the Liberty Bell. But when a 2000 ABA Journal article called him "the most powerful lawyer-cum-fixer in the state," he sued the magazine for libel. The ABA asserted that the description was intended as a compliment used to describe Sprague's "effectiveness as a problem-solver and trouble-shooter." But Sprague contended the words also suggested the criminal act of fixing cases. (As I noted in a 2003 post about this case, the article's author, Terry Carter, is a longtime friend whom I consider to be a top-notch journalist.)

Just weeks before the case was set to go to trial in federal court in Philadelphia, the ABA agreed to settle. Under the terms of the settlement, it agreed to pay Sprague an undisclosed sum of money, publish a half-page apology in the magazine, and put out his biography. The biography was written by Joseph R. Daughen, a retired reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News and author of earlier books about former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and the collapse of the Penn Central Railroad. At a recent gathering to unveil the book, the business manager for the electricians' union in Pennsylvania bought hundreds of copies and passed them out as party favors, the Daily News reports. The gesture was intended as a shot at a state senator whose friendship with Sprague fell apart in a dispute over legal fees, the paper says.

A nod to Law Librarian Blog for picking up on this. Meanwhile, the question remains for another day: Is it libel to call a lawyer a fixer?

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 6, 2009 at 02:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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