LIMA — An Allen County judge on Friday took under advisement a motion from lawyers representing The Lima News and its parent company to dismiss a libel lawsuit filed against the newspaper.
Leonard Bingham Jr., 1180 Bikini Dr., Lima, alleges in a lawsuit filed with the Allen County Clerk of Courts earlier this year that the newspaper in a Jan. 13 editorial made false, defamatory and slanderous statements that caused Bingham to suffer damage to his reputation and resulted in a loss of income at his rental business.
Attorneys for The Lima News and its parent company, Aim Media Midwest, argued in court Friday that the newspaper was well within its constitutional rights to offer to its readers a “commentary of good faith on a matter of local importance.”
Bingham in his suit alleges that statements contained in the newspaper’s editorial, including language which labeled him a “convicted drug dealer” who was “no Boy Scout” and was “preying on others by selling cocaine and marijuana” were false and defamatory and could cause the “average listener” to believe Bingham to be “immoral, dishonest and a criminal.”
Bingham argued to Judge Terri Kohlrieser on Friday that he was “never convicted of selling drugs to anyone and I never preyed on the community. I never pled guilty to anything; I was found guilty and that conviction is still under appeal.”
Bingham said the newspaper “defamed my character” by publishing false statements.
“They basically slandered my name,” he said.
John Bussian, an attorney for Aim Media Midwest, said the newspaper’s use of the phrase “Boy Scout” was a “a figure of speech” that was not intended to be taken literally.
Bussian said the characterization of Bingham as a drug dealer was a logical inference given the Lima man’s conviction on charges that included possession of cocaine and marijuana and for the illegal manufacture of drugs.
Bingham Jr., 51, pleaded no contest in October of last year in Allen County Common Pleas Court to those charges, along with one count of having a weapon under disability and a fifth-degree felony count of possession of marijuana. He was found guilty by the court of all charges against him. Bingham is free on bond pending appeal.
Bingham in his lawsuit asks for in excess of $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from the newspaper.
Kohlrieser said the material facts of the lawsuit are not in question.
“This boils down to the statues and the law. I will take the case under advisement as I research the law and will issue a written judgment” at a later date, the judge said.