LIMA — An Allen County judge is expected to rule within two weeks whether a civil lawsuit alleging libel, defamation and negligence on the part of The Lima News and its parent company will continue toward trial or be dismissed.
Leonard Bingham, 1180 Bikini Drive, Lima, filed the suit last year against the newspaper and its parent company, AIM Media Midwest, alleging he suffered harm to his reputation as well as financial losses as the result of a Jan. 13, 2019, editorial in The Lima News which stated that Bingham “preyed on others by selling cocaine and marijuana.”
Bingham claimed the newspaper committed libel when it referred to him in the editorial as “a convicted drug dealer” who was “no Boy Scout.”
Bingham, 52, pleaded no contest in October of last year to charges of possession of cocaine and marijuana and for the illegal manufacture of drugs, along with one count of having a weapon under disability and possession of marijuana. He was found guilty by the court of all charges against him. He is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence.
John Bussian, an attorney for AIM Media Midwest, in July of last year argued that the newspaper’s 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. He said the newspaper’s use of the phrase “Boy Scout” was a “a figure of speech” that was not intended to be taken literally and asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.
But Judge Terri Kohlrieser at that time said the newspaper may have crossed a line when it referred to Bingham as a drug dealer.
“Bingham was neither charged nor convicted of selling cocaine or marijuana,” the judge wrote. “Further, the evidence before this court … does not demonstrate that Bingham was found guilty of a judge of preying on others by selling cocaine and marijuana.”
She denied the newspaper’s motion to dismiss the case.
Subsequent to that 2019 hearing AIM Media Midwest filed a renewed motion for summary judgment that contained an affidavit in support of the newspaper’s editorial.
Dennis Hetzel, who for eight years served as the president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association, said he had reviewed the editorial in question and is of the opinion the piece “was not negligently written or published.” He said the editorial was “written with due care” and that the piece “draws reasonable inferences from court records relating to the prosecution of Leonard Bingham Jr.”
Bussian said the court has “everything needed to determine that the defendant (the newspaper) did not act irresponsibly in publishing the editorial. It adds up to no negligence and it also shifts the burden to Mr. Bingham to show that The Lima News failed to act responsibly.”
Bingham on Friday continued to argue the editorial in question nonetheless damaged his reputation by presenting facts that were false. “They were negligent because they published as fact information that was not true,” he told the court.
Kohlrieser took the matter under advisement and said she would rule soon on the motion before her.
In his suit, Bingham asked for more than $50,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from the newspaper and its owner.