Settlement reached in defamation suit against newspaper

SCRANTON — Former Lackawanna County Commissioners Randy Castellani and Joseph Corcoran agreed Friday to settle a defamation case against the owners of The Times-Tribune, ending a 13-year legal dispute.

The settlement comes two days after a Lackawanna County jury ruled a Jan. 12, 2004, article by former reporter Jennifer Henn falsely reported the men were evasive and uncooperative when they testified before a 2003 statewide grand jury investigating the Lackawanna County Prison.

Details of the settlement are confidential, said the newspaper’s attorney, Timothy Hinton.

“The newspaper is pleased the parties reached a resolution of the case,” Hinton said. “On behalf of the newspaper, we wish Mr. Corcoran and Mr. Castellani well in all of their future endeavors.”

Thomas Sprague,

attorney for Castellani and Corcoran, also said he is pleased the case is resolved.

“My clients and I are very happy the jury vindicated the former commissioners’ position that the Jan. 12, 2004, article was false,” Sprague said. “We are also very grateful we were able to reach, after all these years, a resolution of the claims and to have the stain these articles put on their reputations finally removed.”

Castellani, 51, of the Eynon section of Archbald, and Corcoran, 67, of Scranton, said they were grateful to the jurors, their legal team and Senior Lackawanna County Judge Robert Mazzoni, who presided over the case.

The men served as the Democratic majority commissioners from January 2000 to Dec. 31, 2003.

Corcoran lost his bid for reelection in November 2003.

Castellani retained his seat, but returned to office as a minority commissioner in January 2004.

He resigned in May 2005,

to take a position in the private sector.

The former commissioners filed suit in 2005,

for the January 2004 article, which quoted an anonymous source who said they gave vague and evasive answers before the prison grand jury, and that their conduct so irritated jurors that they wanted to throw them out.

They filed a second lawsuit in 2010,

which was later consolidated with the 2005 suit, for a Sept. 18, 2004,

article by staff writer David Singleton that repeated some of the information in the January article.

The trial was separated into two phases, with the jury first determining if the articles were false.

Castellani, Corcoran and attorney Larry Moran Sr., who represented them before the grand jury, each testified the January article completely mischaracterized the former commissioners’ grand jury testimony. The newspaper presented one witness, James Conroy, a former copy editor who wrote the headline for the article, “Dems stonewall grand jury.”

The jury heard all of Castellani’s testimony from a transcript of the grand jury proceeding that was read in court. Corcoran’s testimony remains under seal. Moran provided information on his testimony by reading from the notes he took while Corcoran testified before the panel.

Under the state’s grand jury act, witnesses and their attorneys are free to discuss their testimony. Others involved in the process, including prosecutors, law enforcement and court personnel, cannot disclose any information.

Moran, who at one time represented Castellani and Corcoran in the defamation suit, explained at trial that the deputy attorney general who prosecuted the prison case gave him Castellani’s transcript — a decision he said caused “some issues” for the attorney general’s office. He said he tried to get Corcoran’s transcript too, but the judge who presided over the grand jury refused to release it.

The county jury of six men and six women deliberated for about 50 minutes Wednesday before finding the Jan. 12, 2004, article was false. Sprague said Mazzoni determined the Sept. 18, 2004, was deemed a repeat of the January article, and therefore it was also false.

The second phase, in which the former commissioners had to prove the articles damaged their reputations and that the paper acted with reckless disregard for the truth, was set to start Friday morning. Attorneys negotiated for about 1½ hours before advising Mazzoni the case was resolved.

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