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Mobtown Beat

Judgement Day

Judge rules in favor of City Paper in Piscatelli lawsuit

By Laura Laing | Posted 3/18/2009

A judge for Baltimore City's Circuit Court has ruled in favor of City Paper and Senior Staff Writer Van Smith in a case stemming from stories Smith wrote in 2006 and 2007. Local real-estate developer Nicholas Piscatelli filed suit against Smith and the paper on Dec. 5, 2007, seeking $6 million in damages, claiming injury to his reputation, as well as "mental anguish" and "humiliation" ("Fitted for a Suit," Mobtown Beat, Dec. 19, 2007). The suit claims that Smith and the paper accused Piscatelli of murdering, or ordering the murders, of two men.

In her judgment, dated Feb. 17, Judge Kaye A. Allison wrote that "there is no genuine dispute of material fact" in the case and she granted summary judgment for the defendants. Allison did not offer a detailed explanation of her reason for the decision. Piscatelli is appealing this judgment to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. A hearing date for that appeal has not yet been set.

Central to the case are two articles reporting on the 2003 murders of Jason Convertino and Sean Wisniewski: "Late Discovery," Mobtown Beat, published Dec. 6, 2006, and "The Lonely Killer," Feature, published June 20, 2007. At the time of the murders, Convertino managed the now-defunct Redwood Trust nightclub, which was owned by Piscatelli. Anthony Jerome Miller was found guilty of the murders of Convertino and Wisniewski and is currently serving a 60-year sentence for two counts of second-degree murder.

"Late Discovery" reported that Convertino's mother, Pam Morgan, said she was approached by a man who told her that Piscatelli hired someone to kill her son. In an interview with Smith, Piscatelli denied Morgan's account. "The Lonely Killer" focused on questions that remained after Miller's conviction, including whether or not Miller had acted alone. The article detailed Piscatelli's testimony on the stand as part of Miller's trial, including Piscatelli's suspicions that Convertino was stealing from Redwood Trust.

During a hearing on Jan. 26 regarding City Paper and Smith's motion for summary judgment, Piscatelli's attorney, Peter Prevas, alleged that the stories were inflammatory and the headline "The Lonely Killer" was sarcastic. He accused Smith of arguing that Piscatelli had ordered Convertino killed. Attorneys for City Paper and Smith argued that the information reported in the stories was gleaned from court testimony or court documents relating to Miller's trial.

Prevas did not respond to requests for comment on this story by press time, and he had not yet filed documents with the court explaining Piscatelli's reasons for appeal.

Peter Axelrad, attorney for City Paper and Smith, says he is hopeful that the paper will win on appeal. "We've always felt we did nothing wrong," Axelrad says, "and we're pleased that Judge Allison agrees with us."

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals will hear the case either later this year or early next year.

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Related by keywords

Fitted For a Suit : Developer Files $12 Million Lawsuit Against City Paper 12/19/2007

The Lonely Killer : Anthony Jerome Miller Got 60 Years For Double Murder, But Questions Still Remain Over Whether Or Not He Acted Alone 6/20/2007

Miller's Crossing : Anthony Jerome Miller Convicted in Redwood Trust Double Murders 3/21/2007

Late Discovery : A New Twist in the Redwood Trust Double-Murder Case 12/6/2006

Trying Time : Double-Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty 3/22/2006

Accidental Justice : Despite Foes Best Efforts, a Controversial Real-Estate Investor Gets Light Treatment in Drunk-Driving Case 7/7/2004

Deadwood Bust : Redwood Trust Nightclub Deal Goes to the Courts 4/28/2004

Club Trouble : Redwood Trust for Sale After DWI Conviction of Owner, Murder of Manager 6/11/2003

Tags: redwood trust murders, Nicholas Piscatelli

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