Return of the Pannus: Jury Reaches Verdict in "Jane Doe" Nude Photos Lawsuit
By Tom Finkel
on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 8:38 AM
How would you like to read the following few paragraphs and then take a little pop quiz? Aw, c'mon! Think of it as an exercise in reading comprehension!
11.16.2009 4:59 pm Jury awards $100,000 in RFT photo dispute By Robert Patrick St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A federal jury in St. Louis on Monday awarded $100,000 to a woman who claimed that nude photos of her torso appeared in a 2006 Riverfront Times article about cosmetic surgery without her permission.
Lawyers for the woman had sought $2.5 to $3 million for compensatory damages alone, but one male juror said the jury awarded only enough to pay something to her lawyers and to allow for her hotel and travel expenses. The woman, identified in court documents only as "Jane Doe," now lives in Georgia.
The juror, who declined to provide his name, said that the jury thought that Doe's lawyers were just trying to "drum up" a case, and there was not enough proof to award more money. He said the cosmetic surgeons seemed remorseful and that jurors thought the office staff and the newspaper were more at fault.
OK, test time! Based upon what you just read, choose the single phrase that most accurately completes the sentence below:
The technically correct answer, of course, is E.
But this isn't merely an academic exercise. Post-Dispatch reporter Robert Patrick really did file a story Monday afternoon, about a real federal case that had recently concluded at the real federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis. And his story really did make it sound as though Riverfront Times had done Jane Doe dirty in a 2006 story by Kristen Hinman called "Sultan of Skin" and was now going to have to pay $100,000 for it.
And that is completely, utterly, unequivocally false.
(That "Crime Beat" graphic with police tape is a nice touch, don't you think?)
In the real world -- the one Robert Patrick apparently doesn't live in but Jane Doe, the cosmetic surgeons and I do inhabit -- the jury found that it was the doctors (a.k.a. Answer A) who collectively operate under the Creve Coeur-based nom de scalpel BodyAesthetic Plastic Surgery & Skin Care Center who'd fouled up and are liable for the mistake they'd made, to the tune of $100,000.
The pair of photos at the center of the dispute accompanied a passage in Hinman's story that describes a form of cosmetic surgery on patients who've undergone massive weight loss. A little more than two inches square, the images are captioned: "A massive-weight-loss patient before a body lift to remove her pannus...and after." Pannus refers to the stretched-out abdominal flesh that remains after a morbidly obese person sheds a lot of pounds.
But why would an anonymous juror be inspired to drag Riverfront Times through the mud?
Because, with a bizarre ruling mid-trial, U.S. Magistrate Judge Terry I. Adelman ensured the jury could draw no other conclusion. Siding with lead defense attorney David Bub, Adelman ruled that allowing reporter Kristen Hinman to tell the jury how Riverfront Times came to possess and publish photos of the plaintiff, and what, if any, restrictions BodyAesthetic had placed on access, would constitute "unfair surprise" and deprive Bub's clients of a fair trial.
The "Sultan" and his partners: C.B. Boswell, Leroy Young and Rob Centeno in 2006 (Centeno has since left BodyAesthetic)
Yet the judge permitted Dr. Leroy Young, the "Sultan" himself, to testify that Hinman had promised not to use any photographs supplied to her by BodyAesthetic and also to submit her story to him for pre-publication review.
If you're keeping score, Young fed the jury two baldfaced lies.
Fact: Young and his partners gave Hinman extraordinary access to their practice during the month she spent reporting her story.They provided her with voluminous documentation on the procedures they offer. They allowed her to sit in on consultations. They invited her and a Riverfront Times photographer into the operating room to watch them ply their trade. (Click the link in that last sentence to see a photo of Young at work.)
Fact: Hinman made no promise of prepublication review, and no promise regarding photographic images -- images the doctors freely supplied.
She said as much under oath last Friday, but because Judge Adelman forbade her to say it in their presence, jurors never heard her testify.
And readers who clicked through to Robert Patrick's story on Monday weren't enlightened, either.
Take it away, Robert!
Even the doctors acknowledged that there had been a mistake in giving confidential photos of Young and others [sic; he means "Doe and others"] to a reporter.
Young testified that the Riverfront Times reporter, Kristen Hinman, promised not to use the photos and promised to let him review the article before publication.
Hinman has denied both of Young's claims, but jurors never heard her denials. Doe's lawyers had her testify outside the presence of the jury so they could preserve the issue for appeal.
Patrick's Post piece does note Young's assertion, Hinman's denial and the jury's absence during the latter. But he doesn't explain why the jury wasn't permitted to hear Hinman's testimony, and he doesn't put two and two together and inform the reader that the unnamed juror and his cohorts thus were left with the mistaken notion that Riverfront Times must have broken its promises to the poor doctors, who were painted as victims of a duplicitous newspaper and an inept staff.
Patrick's story contains some of the salient facts. But the author evidently failed to grasp them.
The Post subsequently published a tweaked version of events in the wee hours of yesterday morning. The rewrite, which also carries Robert Patrick's byline, clarifies that Jane Doe sued BodyAesthetic and not Riverfront Times, but it does not contain an explanation of why Dr. Young's false assertions were allowed to go uncontested.
In other news, Jane Doe's attorney, Richard Witzel, says he and his client "are reviewing her post-trial options."
(Note: A prior Daily RFT post about the Doe v. Young suit, including a link to the original complaint, is accessible here.)