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New Times wins defamation case filed by local doctor

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A San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge has dismissed a $6 million case against New Times filed earlier this year by Atascadero's Dr. Glenn Cooperman.

Cooperman had accused the paper of libel based on a subhead- the headline under the main headline- in a June 2004 story by then-News Editor Daniel Blackburn about the doctor's medical malpractice judgment and a $25,000 settlement to a former patient for alleged sexual misconduct.

The subhead read: "Obstetrician has probationary license; past of sexual impropriety." Which, Cooperman and his lawyer argued, implied a connection between the probation and the alleged misconduct.

But Judge Martin Tangeman disagreed, ruling that story had correctly reported that Cooperman had lost a medical malpractice arbitration proceeding, and that his license had been suspended for his dishonest behavior during a Medical Board investigation into sexual conduct with a young female patient.

Taking the article as a whole, Tangeman wrote, the misleading subhead would not have "produced a different effect on the reader, especially since the article itself clearly pointed out that the Medical Board 'found insufficient evidence had been presented to support sexual misconduct allegations.'"

Editor and Publisher, a New York City-based trade publication, called the ruling "a victory for headline-writing freedom."

Jeffery Riffer, New Times ' lawyer for the case, also applauded the ruling, saying that by definition, headlines are very short descriptions of an article.

"And you can't impose liability when the text of the article is accurate," he said.

David Hagan, Cooperman's lawyer, was unavailable for comment, but conceded to Editor and Publisher that, "I can see [ New Times'] point."

"You have the power of the press that prevailed, but you also have a private citizen whose career was destroyed as a result. I do not see the benefit of that."

-A.H.

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