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MIT Alum Wins Libel Suit Levied By Wellesley Prof.

Controversial article cleared by Superior Court

By Jacqueline A. Newmyer, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

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.

Harvey Silverglate, a well-known Boston lawyerwho specializes in the field of First Amendmentrights and has participated in many academiccases, said he was surprised when he first readabout Martin's suit.

"My reaction was that for Tony Martin to havesued this student was incredibly short-sighted,"Silverglate said, "This professor, more than manyothers, relies on academic freedom because he isso controversial."

Around the time of Counterpoint article, Martinwas being attacked across the country for hisclassroom use of a book published by the Nation ofIslam.

The text, The Secret Relationship betweenBlacks and Jews, was assigned reading in oneof Martin's Africana courses during the 1992-93academic year.

Also in 1993, Martin earned negative publicitywhen he published a book of his own, The JewishOnslaught: Dispatches from the WellesleyBattlefront.

After the book was released, Martin was accusedof anti-Semitism in national media outletsincluding The New York Times and "This Week withDavid Brinkley."

Roy said he found it "puzzling" that, with allof the controversy surrounding Martin, theprofessor chose to sue him rather than pursue morevisible critics like Washington Post columnistRichard Cohen.

Counterpoint, which was started by Roy in 1991,had a circulation of about 1500-2000 when theMartin article was published.

In dismissing the libel charges, the judgeruled that the contested statement in Roy'sarticle was neither false nor defamatory.Fabricant also found that Roy did not act withmalice. Finally, she ruled that Martin suffered nodamages as a result of the article.

"Professor Martin has done more damaged to hisown reputation by bringing this suit and losing itthan any that could have been done by [Roy],"Bertsche said.

"It takes a special kind of professor to reachout and sue a student, and it's unusual," Bertscheadded.

Silverglate, who included Martin in a bookabout the violation of First Amendment rights oncollege campuses, expressed similar sentimentsabout the nature of Martin's case.

Martin appears as a victim of free speechinfringement in Silverglate's book, The ShadowUniversity, published this year andco-authored by Alan C. Kors of the University ofPennsylvania.

"Of all professors to sue a student for libel,Martin should be among the last not the first,"Silverglate said.

Martin has thirty days to file an appeal fromthe date of the verdict

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.

Harvey Silverglate, a well-known Boston lawyerwho specializes in the field of First Amendmentrights and has participated in many academiccases, said he was surprised when he first readabout Martin's suit.

"My reaction was that for Tony Martin to havesued this student was incredibly short-sighted,"Silverglate said, "This professor, more than manyothers, relies on academic freedom because he isso controversial."

Around the time of Counterpoint article, Martinwas being attacked across the country for hisclassroom use of a book published by the Nation ofIslam.

The text, The Secret Relationship betweenBlacks and Jews, was assigned reading in oneof Martin's Africana courses during the 1992-93academic year.

Also in 1993, Martin earned negative publicitywhen he published a book of his own, The JewishOnslaught: Dispatches from the WellesleyBattlefront.

After the book was released, Martin was accusedof anti-Semitism in national media outletsincluding The New York Times and "This Week withDavid Brinkley."

Roy said he found it "puzzling" that, with allof the controversy surrounding Martin, theprofessor chose to sue him rather than pursue morevisible critics like Washington Post columnistRichard Cohen.

Counterpoint, which was started by Roy in 1991,had a circulation of about 1500-2000 when theMartin article was published.

In dismissing the libel charges, the judgeruled that the contested statement in Roy'sarticle was neither false nor defamatory.Fabricant also found that Roy did not act withmalice. Finally, she ruled that Martin suffered nodamages as a result of the article.

"Professor Martin has done more damaged to hisown reputation by bringing this suit and losing itthan any that could have been done by [Roy],"Bertsche said.

"It takes a special kind of professor to reachout and sue a student, and it's unusual," Bertscheadded.

Silverglate, who included Martin in a bookabout the violation of First Amendment rights oncollege campuses, expressed similar sentimentsabout the nature of Martin's case.

Martin appears as a victim of free speechinfringement in Silverglate's book, The ShadowUniversity, published this year andco-authored by Alan C. Kors of the University ofPennsylvania.

"Of all professors to sue a student for libel,Martin should be among the last not the first,"Silverglate said.

Martin has thirty days to file an appeal fromthe date of the verdict

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