Daily Californian Editor in Chief Sued by Father of Deceased Former UC Berkeley Football Player

Rajesh Srinivasan is being forced to skip his classes tomorrow at the University of California, Berkeley, to attend a court hearing 200 miles away.

The Daily Californian editor in chief will appear in Fresno County small claims court to fight a lawsuit brought against him by the father of a former UC Berkeley football player who was featured in the Daily Cal and its affiliated blog The Daily Clog roughly four years ago.

Rajesh Srinivasan, editor in chief and president of The Daily Californian. (Photo on Daily Californian site.)

Fresno podiatrist Harvey Purtz is charging Srinivasan with “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” As the Daily Cal itself reports with admirable objectivity, Purtz is seeking $7,500 in damages.

The suit stems from Srinivasan’s refusal to erase or alter stories on the Daily Cal or Daily Clog websites that report upon the unruly behavior of Purtz’s son at a nightclub and his subsequent dismissal from the university football team.

In October 2006, the newspaper reported Chris Purtz— at the time a 21-year-old UC Berkeley senior– was “involved in a physical confrontation and verbal abuse” of individuals within San Francisco’s Lusty Lady adult club.  Witnesses alleged the Golden Bears linebacker had to be removed from the club after he shoved one employee, directed homophobic and racist slurs toward another, and “demanded prostitutes” for himself and a friend.  Purtz denied the more egregious of the charges.

The football team suspended him immediately following the incident.  In February 2007, he left the team for “personal reasons.”  Last June, he died.

A screenshot of one of the articles in the Daily Cal online archives about Chris Purtz that his father Harvey Purtz wants removed.

In July, Harvey Purtz contacted Srinivasan, calling the articles about Chris “hostile” and triggers adding to his grief over his son’s untimely death.  He requested they be removed from the site.

Srinivasan declined, per the newspaper’s general policy of not erasing or altering content once it has been approved and placed online.  As he told Daily Cal staff writer True Shields, “I get these sorts of take-down requests pretty often.  I was following company policy, which was here years before I was— I can’t just run rogue in making these decisions.”

And so this past October, Purtz filed a lawsuit— yet not against the Daily Cal, the writers of the original reports about Chris Purtz or the editors who first enacted the web policy dictating that the reports should remain online, untouched.

Instead, he is suing only Srinivasan, who was not on the Daily Cal staff or even attending UC Berkeley when the pieces on Purtz were run.

Daily Cal’s board of directors chair Allen Matthews, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist: “This is an egregious abuse of the legal system and of the vital purpose of our state’s small claims court.  I’m sorry about the family’s loss, but grief is not an excuse for Dr. Purtz to file a reprehensible claim against the current student editor, who was in high school when the original article appeared.”

Below, in a Q&A with CMM, Srinivasan outlines the impact and strange focus of the lawsuit and his feelings toward Purtz.

What has been the impact of the lawsuit on you personally?

I would say that in the last week especially, I have focused most of my attention on it, but I wouldn’t call it an overwhelming burden. I will have to miss class Wednesday to go to the trial, but the original court date was during finals week, so this is a much better alternative. Believe it or not, though, this case has been an incredible learning experience for me.  I am deeply interested in the law as it applies to media, and this case gave me practical experience dealing with this area of the law.

To be clear, what is the Daily Cal‘s policy about the removal or alteration of content once it is posted online?

We would only remove content from our website if it qualified for a retraction, which is reserved for extreme cases where a story is entirely untruthful and which requires approval from our senior editorial board. A retraction has never occurred in my time at the newspaper, nor have we ever taken down an online article for any other reason.

Why is he suing YOU and you alone?  Why not the paper or the original writers or editors of the pieces about his son?

This is a question that I think only he can answer. When he e-mailed me requesting the $7,500, I pointed out that he should be directing his claim toward the company since the articles were written before I was at the Daily Cal and that I had taken no public action against him. He replied that I had accepted the responsibility and the take-down was in my hands. I believe this was in reference to when I told him that I was the final decision-maker on this matter. But really, I have no firm answer, and he did not talk to our reporter about this case [True Shields] for our story.

Apart from the journalistic principles involved, is there a part of you that feels slightly bad for Purtz?

Absolutely. I cannot imagine what he is going through, and I understand that he must be feeling a lot of grief over his son’s loss. Nonetheless, I have to do what is right for the Daily Californian, and that is maintaining our right to host these articles.

My next post: An open letter to Dr. Purtz

3 Responses to “Daily Californian Editor in Chief Sued by Father of Deceased Former UC Berkeley Football Player”
  1. Some Guy says:

    What a souless human being. You are letting this get out of hand. Why dont you just take the article down? You have already furthered the pain of this man losing his son.

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  1. […] Comments « Daily Californian Editor in Chief Sued by Father of Deceased Former UC Berkeley Football Player […]

  2. […] As I previously wrote, Fresno podiatrist Harvey Purtz recently filed a $7,500 lawsuit against Srinivasan for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”  The suit focused on the Srinivasan’s refusal to erase or alter stories on the Daily Cal or Daily Clog websites that reported upon the unruly behavior of Chris at a nightclub and his subsequent dismissal from the university football team roughly four years ago. […]