Okay, so maybe it wasn’t all accurate.
More than two years after running an article over which James Van de Velde ’82 filed a libel lawsuit in January, the Hartford Courant retracted part of its story last Thursday.
In the correction, the Courant said it now believes that neither of the two women originally reported to have filed police complaints against Van de Velde actually did so.
Van de Velde’s attorney, David Grudberg ’82, declined to comment on the retraction Monday and would not say what effect it might have on the pending lawsuit.
As a matter of law, the retraction would not absolve the Courant of liability if the original statements were in fact libelous.
“The general rule is that a retraction does not undo the defamation,” Quinnipiac Law School professor William Dunlap said. “But what it might do is reduce damages, by reducing the injury that the plaintiff actually suffered.”
Nor does the Courant’s action imply a weakening of its own case in the lawsuit, although it presumably will prevent the newspaper from claiming truth as a defense.
The original article, entitled “From Pillar to Pariah,” was a profile of Van de Velde, whom Yale officials named as a police suspect in the December 1998 murder of Suzanne Jovin ’99 when they cancelled his classes for the 1999 spring semester.
Citing an unnamed source, the Courant reported in the Jan. 13, 1999, article that two female television news reporters had filed complaints against Van de Velde with the New Haven Police Department and that one complained because Van de Velde had harassed her after she ended a “fledgling relationship.”
Van de Velde filed suit against the newspaper earlier this year, alleging that the article’s claims about the reporters were defamatory and “utterly false.”
In Thursday’s correction, the Courant said one of the two women told New Haven police during an interview related to the Jovin investigation that she believed Van de Velde had been spying on her, but did not file a complaint.
The other woman complained formally to Branford police that she had been getting hang-up phone calls and speculated that Van de Velde might be responsible, but had no evidence to corroborate her supposition.
Courant Managing Editor Cliff Teutsch, who said in January the paper believed the story was accurate, could not be reached for comment Monday.