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We took a trip to Mahattan’s Supreme Court last Monday (October 24), and were told to file a story by midnight. Here’s mine:

An Italian art expert told a Manhattan jury Monday that she too was a victim of accused rapist Hugues Akassy.

Paola D’Agostino told jurors in Manhattan Supreme Court that Akassy, posing as a French television journalist, had smooth-talked his way into her life, only to stalk her and molest her once she turned down his advances.

He lurked in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, where D’Agostino works, and forced himself onto her one evening in Riverside Park, she said.

D’Agostino claimed that the pair were enjoying a picnic in the park—she brought cheese and crackers, he brought wine—when Akassy pushed her onto her back, his hands on her chest, crawled on top of her, and began kissing her. She brought her knees up to his groin to separate his “heavy” body from hers, and pried him off of her.

She then fled in tears, she said.

But she did not leave the park and Akassy eventually caught up with her on the pier, she testified.

He calmed her down, steered her towards the edge of the water, and held her in what she called a “Titanic pose” as she leaned over the railing, the jury heard. She said she was no longer afraid.

“A man who you were afraid of is holding you over the Hudson River,” defense attorney Glenn Hardy asked her. “And you were not scared?”

During D’Agostino’s testimony, she never made eye contact with Akassy, and kept her head pointed squarely at the prosecutors and defense lawyer questioning her. When she was asked to disclose personal information like her cell phone number and address, she shifted her eyes from side to side, but otherwise remained steady in her focus—always ahead.

Akassy, meanwhile, shuffled through papers, twiddled a pen, and seemed to only occasionally listen to his accuser’s testimony. When was listening, though, he did so intently, and looked directly at the witness stand.

Akassy is charged with raping a Russian tourist in addition to stalking and sexual abuse in incidents with four other women. He faces up to 53 years in prison if convicted on all charges, Hardy said.

Hardy’s defense stressed that D’Agostino only filed her complaint against Akassy after her sister had told her about the rape charges.

“If [D’Agostino was] that concerned with what happened, [she] would have contacted the police much earlier,” he said.

Hardy also had no doubt that his client had sex with the Russian tourist accusing Akassy of rape.

“The issue is whether or not it was forced,” he said.

For all its emotional flourish, however, the trial did manage to put one of the twelve jurors to sleep. The man, who admitted to dozing off during last Thursday’s proceedings as well, was replaced about an hour into the afternoon session after he failed to stay awake during D’Agostino’s testimony.

1. What are the elements of a defamation claim, whether it is libel (written) or slander (oral)?

Defamation is a false statement of fact (i.e. not an opinion), published to someone other than the plaintiff of the defamation claim. A statement made on a television broadcast or in a newspaper article is clearly considered ‘published,’ but so too is an email or a text message. To be ruled defamatory, the statement must cause harm to a specific person. And since corporations are people, they count as well. In the U.S., it is the plaintiff’s responsibility to prove that the statement is, in fact, false.

2. If someone gives you her name and password to access her employer’s website, should you use that information to access the site?

No. Identity theft online is just as deplorable as identity theft in person. That said, if you are able to access a seemingly restricted area without lying or forging an alternate identity (say you just hit ‘Enter’ on the employer’s security page and are let onto the site), you are in the clear. If the company fails to take the appropriate precautions, that’s their problem. Similarly, if you come across a box of confidential files lying in a garbage can, you are completely within your rights to look at them; whoever threw them out forfeited their claim to privacy when they put the files out in public.

3. How much time should you give the subject of an article or video to comment before publication?

Give someone as much time to comment as you can, given your circumstances. If they can get their reply in before deadline, great. If they can’t, too bad for them. While it is important to provide both sides of your story, you must not give your subject control over your story. You must not feel any obligation towards your subject. Of course, “be a human about it;” as your Mom no doubt says, treat others as you would like to be treated.

4.  What is the rule on reading back quotes to sources?  (Something of a trick question)

There is no rule! Some veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists will tell you to never read back quotes; others will tell you to always read back quotes. There is no legal requirement to do it, but for accuracy’s sake, you may want to. If you do read back quotes, however, be sure to do so right after the interview. If you wait until you’re writing your story hours later, your source may want to change what he or she said (“I shouldn’t have said that; don’t put it in the story.”). That puts you in an awkward situation. Also, reading back a slew of quotes at the end of your interview does not tell your source what you’re going to write; calling your source to check the accuracy of one specific quotation will telegraph your story. You may then be disappointed when your story becomes front-page news–and another reporter’s name is in the byline.

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