Thursday, November 19, 2009

Patrick Tuite Settles Lawsuit Over Double Deal

The Reader received the other day a nearly blank sheet of paper passing itself off as a press release. At the top of the sheet PRESS RELEASE had been typed, and beneath that heading this message:

"The case of Tuite vs. harper Collins, Michael Corbitt and Sam Giancana has been resolved. All terms of the settlement are confidential. The reference to Patrick Tuite was removed from the paperback edition of the book Double Deal prior to its publication in 2003."

There was a cover letter, equally terse.

"Dear Sir or Madam: In that your publication previously reported on the litigation for defamation brought by Patrick Tuite, the enclosed Press Release may be of interest to your readers. The release is self-explanatory and no additional information is available."

It was signed by Paul M. Levy of the Loop law firm Deutsch, Levy & Engel.

The press release was self-explanatory in the sense that it said why it said nothing. Because the terms are confidential, that's why. I called Levy and, chancing an immediate hang-up, asked who he was. He said he represented Tuite. Why are the terms confidential? I asked. He did not have to answer such a prying question, but he did.

"By agreement of the parties," he said. "We felt it was an appropriate element of the settlement."

The Tuite suit was major litigation. I wrote about it frequently for the Reader, and at some length. Tuite is a prominent criminal defense attorney who believed he was slandered in Double Deal, a 2003 book written by a mobbed-up ex-cop, now dead, and by the godson of the former Chicago mob godfather. In the book, Corbitt, the cop, told a story about making a run out to Salt Lake City to pick up $1 million stuffed into a couple of duffel bags. Corbitt said he understood the money was needed to hire a "big-shot lawyer" — Tuite — to defend mob boss Joey Aiuppa against federal charges.

"After Tuite was on the case, all the guys were sort of semijubilant. Everybody figured Tuite had it all handled..." Corbitt wrote. "So you can imagine their reaction when they were all found guilty the following January...

"And what about Tuite? What kind of explanation could he possibly have given for this result? I can't think of one that would've satisfied me--not after advancing him a million bucks for his legal fees. And I guess that's why, for the life of me, I've never understood why Pat Tuite didn't get whacked. Go figure."

The theory Tuite advanced in his lawsuit for why he didn't get whacked was that there was no million dollars and he didn't even represent Aiuppa. His suit failed at the circuit court and appellate levels on the grounds that Illinois' "innocent construction rule" required the courts to measure arguably slanderous language by its most benign interpretation, which in this case was simply that the mob thought Tuite was one crackerjack attorney. Tuite appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. He went beyond arguing that the lower courts had misapplied the innocent construction rule. He called the rule an "anachronism" and asked the supreme court to abolish it.

First Amendment attorneys leaped to the rule's defense. The Reader, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, ABC, CBS, WLS, Crain Communications, the Copley Press, the Illinois Broadcasters Association, and Simon & Schuster joined in an amicus brief that called Tuite's request "profoundly ill-advised." The brief argued that the innocent construction rule "preserves writers, publishers and broadcasters from the chilling effect of having to mount a lengthy and expensive defense of marginal and abusive cases." If, occasionally, it's misapplied, "that...does not mean you throw it out; that is what appellate review is for."

I first wrote about Tuite's suit in 2006, when Tuite took his suit to the supreme court. A few months later I examined what was to me the tortured logic by which that court both ruled for Tuite but managed to keep the innocent construction rule alive. When defense attorneys asked the court for a rehearing, I wrote about the Tuite suit a third time. And that was that. A rehearing wasn't granted and Tuite's suit returned to circuit court for trial. But in the end — I was able to find this out — the two sides agreed to let a mediator work out terms everyone could live with.

Those are the terms that are none of our business.

The note from Levy wasn't quite as succinct or dramatic a message as a dead fish dropped on your doorstep. But it came close. The message: It's over; Fuhgeddaboutit!

Which I'm afraid I and the various parties to the amicus brief had begun to do as soon as the innocent construction rule was saved. It was unpleasant of Levy to tell us so little. But it was nice of him to remember that we once cared.

Thanks to Michael Miner

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