A federal judge fined the Providence Journal-Bulletin $100,000 yesterday and gave its top editor 18 months' probation for ignoring a court order by publishing an article about reputed mob boss Raymond J. (Junior) Patriarca.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Francis J. Boyle also ordered the newspaper's executive editor, Charles Hauser, to perform 200 hours of community service during his probationary period. Boyle suggested that Hauser's probation officer consider requiring him to help put out pamphlets for the Rhode Island Heritage Commission as part of a series on the state's ethnic groups.
Boyle said that the relatively steep fine and penalty were imposed because the Journal-Bulletin, the state's largest newspaper, "has chosen to violate" a court order and "boldly communicate that defiance to hundreds of thousands of residents of this area."
However, Boyle said he decided against a jail sentence for Hauser because the editor was only the "principal actor" and because such a punishment would not be beneficial to the public. The judge said he also decided on the lesser punishment because of the damage he believes the paper has done to itself.
"It has succeeded in tarnishing its image as a law-abiding institution, perhaps irretrievably," Boyle wrote. "It has managed by its own efforts to seriously impeach its future credibility."
The judge found last month that the paper "willfully and deliberately" violated his Nov. 13 temporary restraining order prohibiting publication of a story about conversations between Patriarca and his father, Raymond L.S. Patriarca. Transcripts of the conversations were among more than 4,000 pages of documents released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Freedom of Information Act requests after the elder Patriarca's death.
Spokesmen for the Journal-Bulletin said yesterday they did not know whether they would appeal the penalties. Publisher Michael P. Metcalf issued a statement saying the paper sincerely regretted that Boyle had "seen fit to impose criminal sanctions for a decision that was made by the newspaper in good faith and in the reasonable belief that the First Amendment justified the publication."
Patriarca's lawyers argued last year that it would be an invasion of his privacy if a news organization published transcripts of conversations that occurred in his father's office from 1962 to 1965.
The day after Boyle issued his temporary injunction against publication of the conversations, the Journal published a front-page article to challenge the order, which the editors said they believed was unconstitutional.