Defamation Lawsuit Bubbling Between Metro East Landlord and Alton Telegraph

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Those of you interested in the News of the World brouhaha across the pond might also be interested in another newspaper legal imbroglio -- this one across the river in Alton.

Some time ago, real estate investor Charles Bonnell filed a defamation lawsuit against a reporter with the Alton Telegraph, along with the newspaper's owner, Freedom Communications Inc., claiming that a 2008 article written by the reporter permanently soiled his reputation. He's seeking $1.1 million in damages.

According to the complaint, the reporter, Linda Weller, wrongly named Bonnell as the owner of a building that burned and implied that he was guilty of arson, using statements made by the fire chief to suggest the fire was set ablaze on purpose.

But the Telegraph feels like Bonnell has no case; the plaintiffs have filed motions of summary judgment to dismiss the case outright, arguing the article in question quoted reliable sources and did nothing to implicate Bonnell. This morning a Madison County judge took the arguments of both parties under advisement and is expected to render a decision in the next few weeks, Telegraph Publisher Jim Shrader tells Daily RFT.

The article in question, which has neither been retracted or corrected, can be found here.

The debate over the building's ownership remains unclear. The Madison County Assessor's Office traces the property back to "Madison Trust," but the blaze occurred three years ago. Shrader says he cannot comment on a pending case. The Telegraph had written previous articles about Bonnell, highlighting his bankruptcy problems and vacant properties.

Daily RFT left a voice message with Bonnell's lawyer; we'll update this post if we hear back.

The case is being followed closely by the Madison Record.

From a personal standpoint, we can only say it might have been a mistake for Bonnell to sue the reporter and the owner of the paper. As every reporter will tell you ... Always blame the editor!

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