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Virginia Jury awards lawyer $75,000

Posted on Dec 17, 2005

Jury awards lawyer $75,000 Seth Stratton Staff Writer Thursday, December 15, 2005 A Roanoke, Va. City Circuit Court jury awarded Martinsville Commonwealth Attorney Joan Ziglar $75,000 in damages sought in her defamation suit against Media Six and its president, Charles Roark, a Reidsville resident, on Wednesday. Ziglar was originally seeking $3 million from Roark whose company owns Star News and the now-defunct Buzz publication. Her attorney, Robert Morrison, changed that figure in his closing arguments to $250,000 for mental pain and suffering, humiliation, and damage to Ziglar's reputation and other damages. Ziglar filed the suit in February 2002 when a letter published by Roark's publication, from inmate Za'Kee P.J. Tahlib, accused the Martinsville attorney of trying to implicate the inmate in the Sept. 12, 1998 robbery and shooting of Richard Lee Ross. The letter claimed that Ziglar and police were attempting to get Ramzee Arabee Shareef, also arrested in the case, to falsely implicate Tahlib in the robbery and homicide case. Morrison argued that Media Six didn't care to check the letter for accuracy before publishing it and all the witnesses who testified for Media Six verified that. Morrison said the publication had acted with "willful ignorance," and that that was a reckless disregard for the truth, a component of defamation. At the time, there was no policy set that dealt with such letters, Roark testified. Roark also said that no one on the publication's staff had any journalism training. He also testified that a sensational letter such as Tahlib's could help to sell the publication, and give someone a voice. Ziglar removed herself from the prosecution of the case after the letter was published and all but one of the previous five charges, including capital murder, were dropped. Patrick County Commonwealth Attorney Chris Corbett took over the case when Ziglar left. Tahlib was later convicted on a conspiracy to commit robbery charge. He is currently serving a drug-related sentence in a federal prison. In his testimony, Roark said he was sorry he hurt Ziglar, and that he did not hate her. Roark's attorney, Perry Harrold, presented evidence to the jury to back up his argument that Ziglar had not been hurt enough by the letter to justify the damage amount sought. He cited the "landslide" victory of Ziglar in Martinsville's city elections in November as proof the letter had no effect on her reputation. He cited the testimonies of several public officials who said their opinions of Ziglar were not affected by the accusations in Tahlib's letter. He also argued that the case did not meet the standard for reckless disregard for the truth, because that required that the parties have serious doubts about the truth of the statement. After the trial, Roark said he would file post-trial motions for relief and consider an appeal. He said his company does not have insurance and the $75,000 would have to come out-of-pocket. "I do feel like we saved a life. It cost our station ($75,000) but I guess so be it," said Roark. "We will survive."

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