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Former Davenport city administrator files libel lawsuit against Quad City Times

Craig Malin photo from City of Davenport

DAVENPORT —  Former Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin has filed a libel lawsuit against the Quad City Times and several of its current and former employees, alleging the paper knowingly published misleading and objectively false statements in an effort to make his “continued employment in Davenport untenable.”

Named in the suit are the Quad City Times, Lee Enterprises and reporters Barb Ickes and Brian Wellner.

The suit contends that the defendants, at various times between June 18, 2015 and June 29, 2015, collectively and/or individually published untrue statements about Malin in regard to his work on the Rhythm City Casino; specifically, whether or not the city would pay for casino grading costs.

Malin tendered his resignation on June 24, 2015, a week after then-Mayor Bill Gluba called on both Malin and City Corporate Counsel Tom Warner to resign for their role in a controversial paving project connected to the construction of the new casino.

Throughout the 41-page suit, Malin accused the Times of altering information, doctoring quotes and printing “knowingly false” statements as part of a coordinated effort to force him or the Davenport City Council to de-fund a newly created public information website they felt was unfair competition.

“The defamatory material was calculated to cause, and did cause, great injury to plaintiff’s reputation,” the lawsuit reads. “Readers are unaware of the Defendant’s numerous objective errors, publication of knowingly false information and purposeful avoidance of the truth…thus furthering Defendant’s goal of shutting down the open government website initiated under Plaintiff’s leadership.”

Read the entire lawsuit filing here.

The suit states that the defendants acted with actual malice or through reckless disregard and negligence, constituting a form of defamation.

Despite receiving copies of the re-drafted agreement that states the city would not be responsible for paying any grading costs, the suit also contends that the defendants chose to avoid the written record in their possession in order to knowingly fabricate a false and malicious story line.

In the suit, Malin outlined more than 20 statements he claims Ickes and Wellner knew were false or misleading. In particular, he singled out Ickes for writing that he’d told attorney Warner that the city would be obligated to pay for the casino’s site preparation and that it “wasn’t up for debate.”

In the suit, Malin contends Ickes knew that statement was false because he supplied her multiple drafts of the agreement as well as emails between himself and Warner.

“Said writing is recklessly false in that Ickes never once asked a question of City Administrator Malin on the grading topic at issue,” the suit states. “She did not ask any question, by e-mail, phone or visit to City Hall. She did not ask whether Warner’s statement was true or whether Mr. Malin had a different recollection.”

In regard to the motive of the defendants, the suit referenced a number of editorials about the city’s new information website, which Malin’s successor, Corri Spiegel, did eventually shutter with Council consent.

The suit also points out that the Times was “so concerned” about the website, that the editorial leadership at the time met with him to ask “to not post public documents or commentary on the open government website until Defendant could publish articles of its own.” The suit says this meeting was attended by the Times’ senior management team and was “memorialized in an e-mail copied to Times senior management that same day.”

For damages, Malin is seeking “an amount necessary to compensate him for his loss” including reduced salary, lost retirement benefits, emotional distress and loss of reputation.

In a blog post published Thursday, May 15 – the same day as the suit was filed in Scott County District Court – Malin wrote that going to court was his last option.

“The Quad City Times knowingly published falsehoods, hand-crafting them as they went,” he wrote. “Not only did they avoid printing the truth of the written record they possessed, they published information which was the exact opposite of plainly visible facts, and the polar opposite of the long record of my service in Davenport.

In the last two years, I asked them four times to retract their false publications.  Setting aside the errors, opinion and the hateful name-calling, which are allowable, there were more than two dozen separate falsehoods I asked to be retracted.  They refused to retract every one of them.  Every single one, including those which are clearly, visibly, no question about it knowingly false.”

Reached via phone Thursday afternoon, Autumn Phillips, executive editor of the Quad-City Times declined to comment on the lawsuit.