Court: No libel in Herald articles about singer's suicide

Lucky for the Herald that the Inside Track was an entertainment column, not straight news reporting: The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today the Herald did not libel Donald Thomas Scholz in the Track's reporting on the suicide of Boston lead singer Brad Delp in part because the column's stock in trade was opinion, not straight facts.

Scholz, who founded the band Boston in the 1970s, sued Delp's ex-wife and the Herald, claiming they defamed him by blaming him for Delp's suicide.

But the state's highest court said otherwise, because the Herald was only printing opinions, not asserting the allegation as a fact, and opinions are protected under the First Amendment - and that those opinions did not stem from "undisclosed facts" that Track Gals Laura Raposa and Gayle Fee were sitting on.

Because the statements even arguably attributing responsibility for Brad's suicide to Scholz were statements of opinion and not verifiable fact, and therefore could not form the basis of a claim of defamation, we conclude that summary judgment properly was entered for the Herald by the second motion judge, and that the first motion judge correctly allowed Micki's motion for summary judgment.

The court further explained its thinking:

Scholz contends that the Herald articles are actionable because they impliedly assert that Scholz was responsible for Brad's death. To support his argument that the articles contain actionable statements of fact, Scholz points in particular to the headline of the March 16, 2007, article, "Pal's snub made Delp do it: Boston rocker's ex-wife speaks." We do not agree.

We begin with the observation that, ordinarily, ascertaining the reason or reasons a person has committed suicide would require speculation; although a view might be expressed as to the cause, rarely will it be the case that even those who were close to the individual will know what he or she was thinking and feeling when that final decision was made. While we can imagine rare circumstances in which the motivations for a suicide would be manifestly clear and unambiguous, this is not such a case.

The statements at issue could not have been understood by a reasonable reader to have been anything but opinions regarding the reason Brad committed suicide. ...[T]he use of cautionary terms in the articles, such as "may have" and "reportedly," relayed to the reader that the authors were "indulging in speculation." ... The most extreme language appeared in the headline, which a reasonable reader would not expect to include nuanced phrasing. ...

Moreover, the Herald articles appeared in an entertainment news column. ... In context, a reasonable reader would consider the statements about the cause of Brad's suicide to have been nothing more than conjecture or speculation, reflecting the opinion of the speaker. ...

We conclude that, here, "[t]he logical nexus between the facts and the opinion was sufficiently apparent to render unreasonable any inference that 'the derogatory opinion must have been based on undisclosed facts.'"

DA, police say there's a reason the prices at one Chinatown store were such a steal

Some of the allegedly stolen goods

The owner of a Chinatown discount store and two of her workers orchestrated a downtown shoplifting ring with which to stock their own shelves, prosecutors charged today.

Phuong Quach, 54, of Dorchester, and her employees Feng Deng, 71, of Quincy, and Cindy Tran, 49, of Malden, were arrested last night and arraigned today on charges of receiving stolen property over $250 and distributing counterfeit goods. They were also charged with aggravated organized retail crime, a newly categorized crime under a law passed in April, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office reports, adding they may be the first people in the state to be charged with the crime.

The three were arrested after a 10-month investigation by Boston Police into a spate of shoplifting incidents in downtown stores, in which the three allegedly recruited shoplifters and told them the specific items they wanted, so that they could resell them at Quach's My-Tan Fashion and Super 99¢ Plus on Washington Street, prosecutors and police say.

Based on evidence gathered during "Operation Sunblock" by Boston Police detectives assigned to District A-1, retailers across the downtown area have apprehended and debriefed numerous shoplifters since at least January and learned that they regularly stole from these businesses and sold the stolen goods at My-Tan Fashion. The interrupted thefts ran from razors and lotion to designer clothes and shoes.

Plainclothes investigators observed store brand products offered for sale with the original retailer's price tag and a My-Tan Fashion price tag at a lower price. In some cases, the defendants sold these items at prices lower than even the wholesale cost paid by national retail chains: an over-the-counter antacid, for example, was priced at My-Tan Fashion for $13.99 – $15 less than the retail price at a chain pharmacy a few blocks away, and $10 less than the wholesale price the pharmacy paid.

Boston Police executed a search warrant at My-Tan Fashion yesterday, recovering at least 5,000 items with an estimated retail value of more than $100,000. They found no cash register, business records, or paperwork showing inventory or sales. In a recorded statement, Quach allegedly made statements admitting knowledge that the seized items had been stolen.

Prosecutors asked for $15,000 bail for Quach and $10,000 each for Feng and Tran. Boston Municipal Court Judge Michael Coyne set bail at $500 for Quach and $300 for Feng and Tran and ordered them to hand over their passports, the DA's office says.

In a statement, DA Dan Conley said:

This isn't a shoplifting case. This is the very reason the organized retail crime statute was signed into law. We allege that the defendants played a knowing role in the theft and unlawful resale of tens of thousands of dollars' worth of goods.

The three could face other charges; police say they seized dozens of possibly counterfeit designer bags and wallets that were sold as being real designer items.

This is not Quach's first run-in with the law. In 2011, she admitted to sufficient facts when charged with selling crack pipes at the store. The case was continued without a finding, the DA's office reports.

The DA's office adds that the people who allegedly stole stuff for her from other stores have been charged with larceny.

Innocent, etc.

Looks a little scrawny to me, mom

Back in the day, the first floor of Faneuil Hall was the place where Bostonians could buy fresh meat and poultry. In 1952, Leslie Jones captured the scene when Mr. Kelley, of Thresher & Kelley Market, showed off his Thanksgiving turkeys to a mother and her kids.

From the BPL's Leslie Jones collection. Posted under this Creative Commons license.

Smoky two-alarm fire forces evacuation of Post Office Square building

10 Post Office Square. Photo by BFD.

The Boston Fire Department reports firefighters responded at 9:48 to a fire in a basement electrical vault at 10 Post Office Square that was sending smoke up into the rest of the building.

After firefighters were unable to identify the circuit that was causing the problem, the building's occupants - and the firefighters themselves - were ordered out to await the arrival of an Eversource crew that could shut the power to the building from the street.

The department reports the power was shut off around 11 p.m. and with that, firefighters were able to clear the smoke from the building.

Tue, 11/24/2015 - 21:48