The Jayson Blair episode not only damaged the reputation of the New York Times and torpedoed the careers of editors Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, but media lawyers fear that it is already having negative reverberations far from Manhattan.

Case in point: In Charlottesville on May 23, a jury socked WVIR-TV (Channel 29) with a $10 million judgment in a libel case in which Blair's name came up repeatedly.

During the three-day trial, Matthew B. Murray of Richmond & Fishburne LLP in Charlottesville used the Blair case to batter the NBC affiliate. In part, he cited the Times' 14,000-word report on Blair's errors and fabrications to show what a responsible news organization did to correct the record.

Defense lawyers believe Blair's name was dropped repeatedly to remind the Charlottesville Circuit Court jury that journalists can be reckless.

"The plaintiff brought it up to inflame the jurors against the press generally," said Thomas E. Albro, of Tremblay & Smith LLP. "The Blair case was not relevant to us. In the Blair case, there was admission of wrongdoing, of manufacturing of stories. We denied that we made anything up, and, in point of fact, we had a reliable source and had no reason to" make anything up.

WVIR acknowledged that it incorrectly reported in April and October 2001 that cocaine was seized from the home and auto-repair business of Jesse Sheckler, 52. Sheckler says his criminal defense attorney called the station and asked for a retraction. He said that not only didn't he get one, but the station later repeated the error.

The station, which is owned by Virginia Broadcasting Corp., a holding of Waterman Broadcasting Corp. of Florida, said it believed that Sheckler's attorney had said he would be satisfied without a rebroadcast of the error, rather than an on-air correction. The error was repeated when Sheckler was about to go on trial for allegedly financing a drug dealer -- a charge for which he was acquitted.

WVIR reporter Melinda Semadeni, who has since left the station, testified at trial that Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Pagel told her illegal drugs were found at Sheckler's home and business. Pagel said he never said that. (Pagel also claimed that Semadeni used a ruse to get a case file and then collapsed in tears when caught. But a local newspaper reporter testified on rebuttal that Pagel had confused the TV reporter with her.)

In a motion filed Friday, Albro asked the court to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial. Of Murray's closing argument, he said, "This, of course, is the language of a lawyer inciting a jury to do more than just compensate his client."

Murray denied he used the Blair matter to inflame the jury. But, he added, "I thought it was fortuitous that this case would be tried at such a time that there was a scandal about accuracy in the media."

Libel exposure is no small matter, as the $10 million judgment in the Charlottesville case demonstrates. If a jury believes a news organization is reckless, it gives ammunition to a plaintiff.

That puts the departure of editors Raines and Boyd in the words of Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., "for what we believe is best for the Times" in some financial perspective. Had they remained at the Times, it could have made the paper vulnerable in libel suits.

The sequence of events leading up to the resignations is unclear and Sulzberger, through a spokesman, declined to answer questions about it. But people familiar with the situation said that close associates of the Sulzberger family in the days before the resignations approached media attorneys seeking advice. The attorneys warned of the exposure that the newspaper faced.

The counsel goes like this: Because Raines and Boyd waited for so long to fire Blair as more than 50 corrections piled up and after at least one editor warned that Blair had to go, some libel attorneys could have used those facts to build a case about reckless disregard for the truth at the Times.

Under the law, a false and defamatory statement published with knowledge that the information is false, or with reckless disregard for the truth, creates an injury and establishes defamation against a public figure or official. This standard was established in the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan.

A Times spokesman declined to comment on whether legal exposure contributed to the discussions that preceded the editors' resignation.

Some media attorneys have speculated that if Raines and Boyd had remained in charge, that fact could have been used to devastating effect in litigation. A public perception that the New York Times let its newsroom get out of control could expose the company to massive legal judgments for a successful libel plaintiff.

While many media defense lawyers publicly said they are confident a judge could have been persuaded to keep references to Blair out of an unrelated libel case, that was not a certainty. A clever plaintiff's lawyer could have used the Blair episode to taint the views of a jury and paint the Times as a reckless and negligent news operation.

"In theory, if there were some kind of showing there was improper supervision on one occasion, a plaintiff's lawyer in another case would certainly want to use that," said media attorney Slade Metcalf of Hogan & Hartson LLP, based in New York. "It would be up to the judge" whether such evidence was admissible.

That left the Times vulnerable to potentially large court verdicts. Such vulnerability is estimable, and soon the Times' insurers may have made the calculation, too.

"There is an elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about," said one media lawyer. "But that doesn't mean it's not there. There is an incentive not to talk about it." That's because talking about it could encourage such libel suits.

Summer Associate Antics

It is the time of the year when we amuse you with the antics of summer associates. Today, we bring you an e-mail from a Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP summer associate in New York, sent one Monday afternoon earlier this month.

"I'm busy doing jack [expletive]," begins the e-mail, obtained by Hearsay. "Went to a nice 2hr such lunch today at Sushi Zen. Nice Place. Spent the rest of the day typing emails and bull-[expletive]-ing with people. Unfortunately, I actually have work to do -- I'm on some corp finance deal, under the global head of corp finance, which means I should really peruse these materials and not be a [expletive]-up."

To whom did this summer associate, an Ivy League law school student recognized for his writing skills, send this e-mail? A fellow summer associate? A law school pal? Nope. This e-mail went to 40 people at the firm, including 20 partners. After that, it has passed through e-mail boxes of many other firms faster than spam for Viagra. As much as we'd like to out this well-schooled lad, we're not using his name. (Therein lies a lesson for the associate: Discretion is the better part of valor.)

A few hours later, our summer associate e-mailed a long apology: "The addressing of the e-mail was obviously an honest mistake. The content of the e-mail was inappropriate, showed a total lack of discretion, responsibility and judgment and undoubtedly did my reputation and my future here no favors."

That's for sure. The associate is still gainfully employed -- making $2,400 a week, which figures to be $140,000 a year -- but likely taking care, now, to double-check his e-mails before hitting "send."

Initial Success

To get ahead in the antitrust division of the Justice Department, apparently you have to abbreviate your first name and use your middle. So, say Hearsay's author wanted a job in antitrust, he would have to be J. Vincent Grimaldi.

Case in point is J. Bruce McDonald, whom Attorney General J. David Ashcroft nominated to be deputy assistant attorney general for regulatory matters. An antitrust and energy attorney at Baker Botts LLP in Houston, McDonald is to replace (ahem) R. Hewitt Pate, whose promotion to run the antitrust division is expected to sail through the U.S. Senate after getting a nod from the Senate Judiciary Committee. McDonald is an alum of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington.

And Furthermore . . .

In the closest contest for D.C. Bar president since 1998, Hogan & Hartson's full-color support of John C. Keeney Jr. helped propel him to victory over Justice Department veteran John Cruden, whose under-financed underdog candidacy was chronicled in the last Hearsay column. Jack Keeney won by 197 votes out of 9,655 votes cast. (In 1998, Joan Strand beat Cornish F. Hitchcock by 196 votes out of 7,494 cast.) . . . Jon Leibowitz, former staffer to Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America, is on Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle's short list for nomination to the Federal Trade Commission to replace Mozelle W. Thompson, should he retire this fall.

Hearsay seeks the advice of counsel every other week in Washington Business. E-mail your letters of resignation to

New York Times Publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., left, with Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd. Raines and Boyd resigned over the Jayson Blair episode.