The founder and CEO of an online charter school based out of Philadelphia has filed a libel lawsuit against the owner of the Philadelphia Daily News and one of its reporters, contending the newspaper defamed him in a front-page article it ran this past spring that detailed school dealings.
Philadelphia attorney Adrian J. Moody, of the firm Moody, Shields, Mincey & Fitzpatrick, filed the complaint July 6 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of city resident John Craig.
The defendants named are Philadelphia Media Network and journalist David Gambacorta.
The complaint alleges that Craig was defamed in an article Gambacorta penned in March about the Frontier Virtual Charter High School, of which Craig was founder and chief executive officer.
The article about the school was referenced on the cover of the March 14 issue of the Daily News, which declared: “Worst. School. Ever. How a Local Cyber Charter is Burning Your Money.”
The actual article that ran inside the paper was titled: “A Virtual Disaster: Cyber-school kids truant, failing; teachers dumped.”
Craig claims the defendants defamed him by referring to him in the article as a “shady educator” who financially and educationally mismanaged the Frontier Cyber School, that Craig’s explanations for the school’s problems seemed questionable and that the plaintiff might have violated the state’s Sunshine Law.
“The Defendants claimed that the information uncovered during their investigations directly refuted Plaintiff Craig’s claims about the operation and health of the school and its student attendance, thus suggesting that he was not truthful and forthcoming,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint says that the “Virtual Disaster” publication was capable of being misunderstood by readers, who would no doubt view Craig’s leadership of the school as incompetent and untruthful.
A picture of Craig accompanied the newspaper article, which also later ran on the defendant’s website Philly.com.
The complaint goes on to mention a follow-up article Gambacorta authored, titled “Final Frontier: Charter School stiffs employees, kids,” in which it was stated that because Craig had laid off all of the school’s staff, the school’s 85 students were left “twisting in the wind, like tattered plastic bags caught on the edge of a tree branch.”
“The Defendants again said that Plaintiff Craig was a ‘shady educator’ who had failed to answer questions about the school’s operations and finances, and reported that a state official claimed that the Frontier Cyber School had impeded a state investigation into it by providing incomplete or delayed responses to information requests, thereby raising questions about its willingness to meet legal responsibilities,” the lawsuit states. “The import of said reports and publications was that the Plaintiff was a ‘shady educator’ who was professionally incompetent, untruthful and may have been involved in illegal activity.”
The lawsuit claims that the two articles painted Craig in a false light and exposed him to contempt, suspicion and ridicule.
The complaint further claims that the defendants knew the statements and innuendo contained within the article were either entirely false, or, if not, “their failure to determine the accuracy of the Article was an utter and reckless disregard of a truth or falsity.”
Craig’s reputation in the community has been severely damaged, his suit claims.
The lawsuit contains counts of libel and invasion of privacy: false light.
For each of the counts listed, Craig seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, plus unspecified punitive damages.
The case ID number is 120700889.