Calif. appeals court overturns $3 million libel judgment to sheriff's wife

Calif. appeals court overturns $3 million libel judgment

By The Associated Press

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A state appellate court has tossed a $3 million judgment against a newspaper publisher in a libel suit brought by the wife of San Bernardino County Sheriff Gary Penrod.

The 4th District Court of Appeal said Hesperia-based newspaper publisher Ray Pryke doesn't have to pay the money to Nancy Bohl, who sued Pryke in 2000 over a series of stories criticizing San Bernardino County's contract with her counseling service.

The stories implied she benefited financially from her intimate relationship with Penrod. She married him in May 2000.

The stories ran in the Hesperia Resorter, Apple Valley News and the Adelanto Bulletin, small weekly newspapers published by Valleywide Newspapers.

In 2005, Superior Court Judge Christopher Warner ruled the articles were libelous. The newspaper said Bohl, a psychotherapist and owner of the Counseling Team, gave Penrod confidential information about sheriff's employees undergoing treatment.

Pryke and reporter Mark Gutglueck have steadfastly defended the stories.

Warner said in his ruling that the articles impugned the integrity and reputation of Bohl and her company.

But the appellate justices ruled on May 4 that Warner abused his discretion when he imposed the judgment against Pryke, who was then under a court order to reveal article sources.

"Pryke had a legitimate argument as to why he was not required to reveal the information, namely, California reporter's shield law," the justices said.

The appeals court sent the case back to San Bernardino County for a new trial.

Pryke said on May 4 that he had rejected an earlier settlement offer that included a retraction and sale of Valleywide Newspapers, his chain of eight weekly newspapers based in the high desert.

"They wanted me out of business," Pryke, 84, said. "And I got a new lawyer."

Bohl's attorney John Rowell said he was disappointed.

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