A judge ended parts of a lawsuit against several newspapers that was brought by a podiatrist accused of providing poor care to veterans.
Six veterans sued the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta in 2017 over alleged mistreatment for foot and ankle problems by Dr. Thomas Franchini.
Franchini was not named as a defendant in those suits, which have since been settled. In 2018, he sued several newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, alleging libel and defamation following their coverage of the veterans' claims.
The Portland Press Herald reported Tuesday that a judge wrote Friday that Franchini should be considered a public figure and that under free speech protections in the Constitution, he does not have the right to "any recovery in the absence of proof of actual malice.”
The judge previously determined that Franchini had failed to allege that the newspapers knowingly published false information or acted with a reckless disregard for whether the report was false.
“We accurately reported the truth about a critical public health concern at the VA hospital,” Press Herald Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman said in a statement. “We’re pleased the court ruled in our favor.”
The federal government settled the lawsuits brought by five of the veterans in March 2020 without admitting fault. Combined, it paid them more than $1 million as a part of that settlement, the Press Herald reported.
An attorney for Franchini, Raymond Belair, told the Press Herald that he did not think his client should be considered a public figure and that they planned to appeal the judge's order ending the suit.
Two of Franchini's claims, against the publications USA Today and Investors Business Daily, remain pending.