Nicole Eramo, the former UVa associate dean, will likely see her $7.5 million-dollar defamation lawsuit to trial. The lawsuit was filed in May of last year after the November 2014 Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” was redacted for story-telling and logical inconsistencies.
The article portrayed Eramo in a negative light, as having road-blocked “Jackie” from bringing her alleged rapists to justice. As a result, Eramo was relieved of her position within the University. She is now claiming the article and subsequent backlash have irreparably damaged her reputation.
“I think the evidence is very clear that Rolling Stone acted with actual malice and reckless regard for the truth and really fundamentally, wrote a negative and defamatory piece about our client, Ms. Eramo,” said Eramo’s attorney Libby Locke.
At the forefront of Locke’s argument for her client is the notion of a preconceived bias against Eramo which drove Sabrina Rubin Erdeley, the article’s author, to write based on whim.
In terms of evidence, Locke believes the Rolling Stone editors considered and rejected changes marked up by fact checkers before the articles publication. Despite this, an attorney for the magazine claims Rolling Stone “had wholesale belief in the truth of the story.”
In court Friday, Eramo and Rolling Stone engaged in a five-hour long exchange over recent motions. Eramo is seeking summary judgements from a judge over the determination of whether she should be treated as a public or private figure as well as whether Rolling Stone took actual malice. These issues are central to defamation claims, and would accelerate the case toward a conclusion.
Regardless, Friday’s events seemed most centered around the question of actual malice, a matter key to defamation claims as it would establish whether Rolling Stone knowingly published libelous information which was false. In regards to the former issue, Eramo’s attorneys argue the former associate dean should be treated as a private figure. The Rolling Stone, however, is classifying her as a limited purpose public figure due to her position as the chair of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board.
In addition to these issues, Erdely’s trust in Jackie was scrutinized during Friday’s hearing. There is evidence to suggest Erdely lost trust in Jackie’s account in the story, including an e-mail sent from Erdeley to her editors. There were also parts to the story left unconfirmed by Erdeley herself.
The judge presiding over this hearing has indicated that many of Friday’s questions should ultimately be decided by a jury, though he will take a few weeks to contemplate.
There has been a two-week trial scheduled for October 11.