N.J. pastor files suit in Phila. claiming local news station defamed him

Jon Campisi Jan. 23, 2012, 7:03am

A South Jersey pastor has filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania court against the local CBS affiliate and a handful of station employees for allegedly slandering his name in a case stemming from a broadcast news report of child sexual abuse at the hands of a former church volunteer.

Raymond M. Gordon, along with co-plaintiffs St. Matthew’s Baptist Church and Perfect Peace Ministry Inc., claims in the civil action that KYW CBS 3 and news anchors Chris May and Natasha Brown, as well as reporter Elizabeth Hur, defamed Gordon in a broadcast report the team did this past fall involving a former volunteer preacher at the church, which is located in Williamstown, N.J.

Gordon, who has been a pastor at the church for the past 25 years, claims in his suit that the defendants slandered his name when they opened up a Sept. 19 news broadcast with reports of “a community in shock,” relating to the arrest three days earlier of Archie Bolger of Sicklerville, N.J. for sexual assault of a minor.

Bolger, his wife and his alleged victim, to whom Bolger is related, had been church members for years, but Bolger hadn’t been a volunteer preacher at the religious institution for quite some time, according to the lawsuit, which was filed at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court Jan. 17 by attorneys Richard A. Sprague and Geoffrey R. Johnson of the Philadelphia firm Sprague & Sprague.

The lawsuit claims that as the defendants reported on the arrest, they repeatedly showed camera shots of the church building and its entrance sign, which bears the name of the plaintiff.

The news report failed to identify Bolger by name until halfway through the segment, the suit claims.

“Pastor Gordon is St. Matthew’s spiritual and administrative leader, and its only pastor. Based on the CBS 3 report, members of St. Matthew’s congregation, local officials and countless others throughout CBS 3’s broadcast region believed that Pastor Gordon had been arrested for or was someone involved in Bolger’s alleged criminal sexual assault,” the lawsuit states. “The CBS 3 defendants’ reckless disregard for the truth was palpable.”

The lawsuit claims that the news station completely ignored the fact that Bolger’s alleged crimes occurred in his home, involved a family member and “had absolutely no connection to either Pastor Gordon or to St. Matthew’s,” and instead opted to focus on Bolger’s past ties to the church.

The complaint states that while Bolger had been a volunteer preacher at the church in prior years, so are many St. Matthew’s congregants, often 20 or more at any time.

“Despite having contrary information readily available, the CBS 3 defendants falsely, recklessly and maliciously broadcast a report that led countless viewers to believe that Bolger’s alleged criminal sexual assault involved St. Matthew’s and, even more perniciously, that Pastor Gordon was the perpetrator of or was someone involved in Bolger’s alleged crimes,” the lawsuit states.

“The CBS 3 defendants’ false and defamatory report of Bolger’s arrest recklessly and maliciously disregarded facts in their possession, and caused viewers to conclude that Pastor Gordon is a criminal pedophile whose victims potentially extended to other members of St. Matthew’s congregation, or that Pastor Gordon was somehow involved in Bolger’s alleged crimes.”

The lawsuit contains four counts of defamation and one count of invasion of privacy.

Gordon seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, plus punitive damages and other court relief.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The case ID number is 120101974.

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