Friends in the Trenches | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Friends in the Trenches

An appellate panel denied breach-of-contract claims by retired Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent Robert Pierce against The Clarion-Ledger last week.

Pierce's breach-of-contract claim is based on his alleged status as a third-party beneficiary to a contract between then-MBN Director Frank Melton and Clarion-Ledger reporter Ana Radelat. Pierce claims that Melton and Radelat had an oral contract allowing Melton to leak a copy of an MBN internal memo implicating Pierce, so long as Radelat confirmed the information in the memo.

State Auditor Phil Bryant dismissed the memo's allegations against Pierce as bogus after an investigation by his office.

The appellate panel dismissed Pierce's claim against The Clarion-Ledger because Pierce "cannot establish the existence of a contract between Melton and Radelat."

Pierce's attorney, Mike Farrell, said he is filing a motion asking the entire 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the Friday decision, saying the panel dismissed something that the Clarion-Ledger already admits: the oral contract.

"The Clarion-Ledger had asked the Fifth Circuit to rule that its reporters do not have to keep their promises to sources, based on a law in Minnesota … but the court never even mentioned the Minnesota case. … The court dismissed the case on grounds that there was no proof of a contract between Melton and Radelat. However, The Clarion-Ledger had admitted the truth of that allegation for purposes of testing its motion to apply Minnesota law here," Farrell said. "We will ask the court to take another look at that point in our petition for a rehearing."

In other news related to Melton's Meridian case, Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Robert Bailey will hear a motion for a bench ruling on Pierce's damages on May 4. Jurors failed last October to award damages to plaintiffs Pierce and Jimmy Saxton, another agent injured by Melton's leaked memo. A second jury trial is scheduled for May 21. Farrell argues, however, that the court can dispense with a jury and award damages from the bench after a hearing—so long as a defendant is in default, as Melton is.

Bailey struck Melton's defense in the civil case in 2005, after Melton lied to the court several times while under oath, denying that he had leaked the MBN memo that he had, in fact, leaked only hours after he received it.

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