By Ralph Cipriano
In a non-confidential settlement signed Monday, the Philadelphia Inquirer has decided to drop the vindictive lawsuit that it had filed against Stu Bykofsky, the newspaper’s own former columnist.
In settling the case, the Inquirer agreed to forget about trying to recoup Bykofsky’s severance payment of $58,738.56. The newspaper also agreed to release Bykofsky from a non-disparagement clause that he signed back in 2019 when he retired from the paper.
“My freedom of speech has been restored,” Bykofsky said. His battle with the Inquirer on two fronts, he said, probably cost him some $25,000 in legal fees.
But, he said, “I consider it worth every penny. I can now say what needs to be said.”
[Stu Bykofsky will publish his own column Wednesday.]
I asked Bykofsky, who writes an online column, if this settlement means that he’ll soon be joining me in regularly bombing the so-called paper of record with plenty of well-deserved criticism.
But Byko responded that he’s not about to go nuclear on his progressive former employers.
“I think [the Inky] does a lousy job on some things, but I don’t hate them,” Bykofsky said.
Last year, the Inquirer filed the pettiest of lawsuits against Bykofsky. In that suit, the newspaper actually alleged that when the former columnist filed a defamation suit against the Inquirer and its Pulitzer-Prize winning architecture critic Inga Saffron, to defend his reputation, that Bykofsky had violated the non-disparagement clause that he signed when he took his buyout.
“It was a baseless and retaliatory suit,” Bykofsky agreed. “Somebody up there [at the Inquirer] really dislikes me.”
“It’s hard to imagine why because I’m such a lovable character,” Bykofsky said. “It must boil down to my opinions that they don’t like, which of course they got rid of.”
Bykofsky filed his defamation suit after his infamous July 12, 2019 going-away party held in the Inquirer newsroom, where Saffron vindictively trashed Byko as a sexist, ethically challenged print dinosaur who had “a taste for child prostitutes in Thailand.”
Last December, a 12-member jury unanimously found that Bykofsky had been defamed, and that Saffron was guilty of “outrageous conduct.”
The jury awarded Bykofsky $20,000 for emotional distress, and $25,000 for humiliation and embarrassment, for a total of $45,000 in compensatory damages. And in a stinging rebuke, the jury hit Saffron with an additional $1,000 in punitive damages.
It was the first successful defamation verdict in Philadelphia in 20 years involving a public figure.
In order to have found that Bykofsky had proven that Saffron and the Inquirer were guilty of defaming a public figure, the judge had instructed the jury that not only did they have to find that Saffron knew what she was saying about Bykofsky was false when she said it, but that she recklessly went ahead and said it anyway.
In the Inquirer’s lawsuit against Bykofsky, when the newspaper asked to settle the case, the former columnist had asked the Inquirer to pay his legal costs. They weren’t willing to do that. But they were willing to make a public settlement where they dropped the disparagement clause.
Mark D. Schwartz, Bykofsky’s lawyer who handled both suits, along with Jason Pearlman, said he thought that the newspaper’s decision to sue his client was the height of hypocrisy.
“I find it incomprehensible that a newspaper that wraps itself in the First Amendment, taking out full-page ads for itself, would deprive its former employees of the same right to free speech,” Schwartz said.
This originally appeared in Ralph Cirpriano’s Big Trial on SubStack.