A jury yesterday found that an angry voter defamed City Councilman Jack Kelly with false claims about "voting with the homosexual lobby" to "promote sodomy to our youth" in a 2007 flier but did so without malice.
That added up to a victory for Paul Corbett, who targeted Kelly because the councilman had voted to force the local Boy Scouts chapter to pay $200,000 per year or move from its headquarters on city-owned land if the group continued to ban participation by gay people.
Corbett, who testified that he started with Kelly because he didn't have the resources to go after all 16 Council members who voted for the measure, vowed after the verdict to target Councilman Frank Rizzo next.
"Unfortunately, we don't have an election this year," said Corbett, who will have to wait until 2011 for a shot at Rizzo.
"If he thinks that he needs to go after me, that's fine with me," Rizzo said last night. "But I wouldn't change the way I voted."
Corbett acknowledged that some claims in his flier were inaccurate but said he had a right to express his opinion on Kelly.
"It was done in anger," Corbett said of the 5,000 fliers he and his family stuck on cars parked in churches in Northeast Philadelphia before the 2007 election. "It was done with hyperbole."
Kelly won that race by just 123 votes and blamed the flier for the slim margin. He was seeking damages, including $27,000 he spent on legal and public-relations fees during a ballot recount.
Kelly said he was disappointed with the verdict, calling the flier "vicious, hateful and malicious."
"I think people should be held responsible for their actions," Kelly said of Corbett.
Judge Albert Snite Jr. lectured Corbett for more than 10 minutes after the jury left the courtroom, noting that few people discussed homosexuals in 1928 when the Boy Scouts signed a $1 per year lease to build their headquarters on city-owned land at 22nd and Winter streets in Center City.
Council acted because the city's anti-discrimination law prevents a group from receiving a subsidy if they discriminate.