A Philadelphia judge has declined to dismiss former Inquirer columnist Stu Bykofsky’s defamation lawsuit against The Inquirer and columnist Inga Saffron, a suit that was filed after Saffron delivered a blistering farewell speech at Bykofsky’s retirement send-off last year.
Saffron was one of several colleagues to speak at the newsroom party and her remarks were captured on video and later published online by Philadelphia magazine. The Washington Post was among the news outlets to subsequently report her criticism of Bykofsky and some of his work in front of a room full of colleagues.
At one point, the suit says, Saffron singled out a column Bykofsky wrote for the Daily News in 2011 about a trip he took to Thailand, saying it highlighted Bykofsky’s “taste for child prostitutes.”
Bykofsky, who spent 47 years at the Daily News and late in his tenure also appeared in The Inquirer, called that assertion a “lie” during Saffron’s address, according to the suit. In his lawsuit, Bykofsky’s lawyers Jason Pearlman and Mark Schwartz, said Saffron had “falsely and maliciously” accused Bykofsky of “sexual immorality and criminal conduct, including engaging in child prostitution.”
Bykofsky is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Lawyers for The Inquirer, led by Eli Segal, asked Common Pleas Court Judge James Crumlish III to dismiss the case, contending that the remarks by Saffron, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for architecture criticism, were simply her opinion of Bykofsky’s work, and would have been understood as such by those in the audience that day.
But in a 21-page opinion issued earlier this month, Crumlish wrote that The Inquirer’s argument was not sufficient to dismiss the suit at this early stage, in part because the videotaped speech — which Crumlish said Saffron delivered with a “humorless demeanor” — was ultimately disseminated well beyond the newsroom.
“Certainly, a fair interpretation for an ordinary listener (not necessarily the sophisticated, urban broad sheet journalistic audience purportedly occupying the newsroom) is that Saffron was referring to Bykofsky’s character and demeaning him as immoral (perhaps an opinion), a conclusion based upon the fact that he engaged in child prostitution,” Crumlish wrote.
Segal, The Inquirer’s attorney, declined to comment, as did Saffron and Inquirer spokesperson Evan Benn.
Schwartz, one of Bykofsky’s lawyers, said Tuesday that Crumlish “got [the ruling] right” and “really went into great depth and detail in considering everything.”
Bykofsky said in an email: “I will say only the facts speak for themselves.”
The case is still more than a year away from a potential trial, according to court dockets.