A Scott County jury on Friday ruled in favor of the Quad-City Times and its journalists in a lawsuit brought by former Davenport city administrator Craig Malin.
The jury of four men and four women deliberated for close to three hours.
The lawsuit hinged on how the paper covered Malin in the final months of his 14-year tenure in Davenport. Malin claimed the Times published "objectively and knowingly false" articles between June 18, 2015, and June 29, 2015, about him and a deal to grade the lot at the privately-owned Rhythm City Casino in Davenport. The deal sparked controversy at City Hall, where the then-mayor called for Malin to resign.
Malin has maintained the city was never obligated to pay the casino costs, but former Alderman Jason Gordon testified at trial that the city did pay.
Malin further alleged the Times "bluntly, persistently, and nonsensically" opposed a now-defunct city website, davenporttoday.com, and that the paper and the authors of the articles and columns, Barb Ickes and former reporter Brian Wellner, intentionally interfered with his contract as city administrator through their reporting, leading to the end of his employment with the city.
Ultimately, the jury disagreed.
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"We appreciate the jury’s service and their careful consideration of the evidence, arguments and testimony," said Ian Russell, an attorney for the newspaper. "Today was, of course, a victory for Barb Ickes, Brian Wellner, and the Quad-City Times. But, it is also a victory for the First Amendment and the freedom of the press locally, at the state level and nationally."
Malin's attorneys, Richard Pundt and Larry Thorson, called more than a dozen witnesses. Pundt claimed the Times "wrongfully portrayed" Malin as someone who engaged in improper acts.
The paper stood by its reporting throughout. Russell, who also represented the Times' parent company, Lee Enterprises, argued at trial that there was no evidence the Times ever printed anything it knew was false and that the newspaper was doing its job as a community watchdog. A judge threw out Malin's claims against Lee earlier in the trial.
Malin's 14-year tenure ended in June 2015 and the city council approved a separation agreement that included severance payments and other compensation that could have reached $310,000, depending on when he found another job. The agreement also required Malin to forgo legal claims against the city. Malin was hired as city manager in Seaside, California, just a few months later, in December 2015.
His civil trial began Sept. 23 in Scott County District Court.
Malin had sought more than $1.5 million in damages. Judge Henry Latham ordered Malin to pay court costs.