In the first case of its kind, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge on December 23 exonerated a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) student who had been charged with libel by a professor from Wellesley College.
The professor, Anthony Martin of Wellesley's Africana studies department, sued Avik S. Roy over an article Roy contributed to the fall 1993 issue of Counterpoint, a joint MIT-Wellesley undergraduate magazine.
Martin's complaint centered on a passage in which Roy described how the professor won tenure after filing and winning a discrimination suit against Wellesley.
Roy refused to disclose the confidential sources of his information even after the case was brought to court.
The tenure item appeared at the end of the tenth paragraph of Roy's piece, the majority of which focused on an incident between Martin and a Wellesley student. When the student challenged Martin about academic matters, the professor allegedly called the student a "racist" and a "bigot."
After a two-day trial featuring appearances by both Roy and Martin as witnesses, Judge Judith Fabricant of the Middlesex Superior Court ruled that Roy's account of Martin's tenure battle was "partly false, but substantially true."
In an interview yesterday, Roy, now a student at the Yale University School of Medicine, reacted to the favorable verdict.
"My main concern about this case was that it would exert a chilling effect on college journalists who are interested in covering controversial subjects and people," Roy said.
"I'm glad it's all over, but I was always highly confident we would win," he added.
Neither Martin nor his attorney, Winston Kendall, was available for comment yesterday.
Roy's lawyer, Robert A. Bertsche of the Boston firm Hill & Barlow, said he was particularly pleased by the thoroughness of Judge Fabricant's decision.
Bertsche, who represented Roy on a probono basis, said the result clarifies the broad extent of the law to "students and professional journalists alike."
The ruling ensures "the same protections that apply to media titans...are there for student journalists," Bertsche said.
Bertsche, who is also The Crimson's attorney, called undergraduates "in many ways the weakest, most vulnerable members of the journalistic community."
Lawyers said they believe the Roy case is thefirst instance in which a student journalist hasbeen brought to court on libel charges in thestate of Massachusetts.