High court hears arguments in defamation case

By Alan J. Keays, VTDigger.org

A Northeast Kingdom man says in a lawsuit that a local weekly newspaper should not have run a story on its front page containing information from a bulletin shared by law enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for him and his brother, terming them a "possible threat."

And, Garrett Cornelius contends in recent arguments before the Vermont Supreme Court, the Chronicle in Barton should not have followed that up with a second article describing him as "loud and combative" during a criminal court proceeding.

That article added that Cornelius "offered verbal expletives to just about any officer" handling the case.

An attorney for the newspaper, which bills itself as "The weekly journal of Orleans County," defends both writeups. He cites the freedom of the press, adding that both stories were matters of public concern, and also raised an issue of public safety.

Cornelius' lawsuit has since been thrown out by an Orleans County trial court judge. Both sides in this contentious, long-running legal battle filed appeals, asking the Vermont Supreme Court to weigh-in.

For its part, the newspaper is seeking more than the $5,000 in attorneys' fees it was awarded in defending against the action, saying that figure has swelled well above $30,000.

Cornelius, a Newport resident, argues in filings that the case should be revived and allowed to proceed, in part, so he can find out how the newspaper obtained the "confidential" police bulletin it cited in its front-page article under the headline, "Cornelius brothers deemed a possible threat."

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