Rolling Stone Wins Sanctions Over '20/20' Leak in UVA Rape Story Case

An upcoming ABC News segment is impacting evidence at a defamation trial against the publication set to begin on Monday.
Jay Paul/Getty Images

Thanks to this Friday's episode of ABC's 20/20, former University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo has been barred from presenting deposition testimony of Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of a controversial rape story in Rolling Stone that's the focus of a defamation trial set to begin next Monday. Additionally, the 20/20 segment could impact other evidence at the upcoming trial.

On Monday, Rolling Stone brought an emergency motion demanding sanctions and injunctive relief because Eramo's team "intentionally leaked copies of video depositions," including one showing Erdely crying when questioned about her article about "Jackie," the UVA freshman who, according to a since-retracted story, was gang-raped at a fraternity party.

The publication warned U.S. District Court judge Glen Conrad that after the 20/20 episode airs, "seating an impartial jury in Charlottesville will be difficult, if not impossible."

Rolling Stone asked ABC News not to show the footage. In a press release sent out this morning, the network doesn't mention Erdely, but does tout that the segment — titled "What Happened to 'Jackie'?" — will feature Eramo's first interview since the rape story scandal erupted in late 2014.

The judge also was asked to postpone the trial and move it to another district, but his order stops short of doing this. Nevertheless, Conrad writes he "believes that other sanctions may be in order. To the extent that other material disclosed by plaintiff and not submitted for inclusion in the public record is broadcast by third parties, plaintiff may be prohibited from using such material at trial."

On the eve of a trial that could be the most important legal event in Rolling Stone's storied history, the publication has gotten yet another victory in court.

Conrad also clarified that Eramo must show that the statements in the Rolling Stone article she contends defamed her were "of and concerning" her. In a prior summary judgment ruling, the judge wrote that there was no dispute on this question, but now it will be for the jury to decide whether Erdely's references to what the UVA administration did — or didn't do — in the wake of sexual assault allegations can be interpreted as statements concerning Erdely.

The plaintiff also will need to show actual malice to prevail in this case. The parties are still arguing over the questions to be presented to a jury, including whether a lack of adherence to accepted standards of journalism is enough to demonstrate a reckless disregard for the truth. The absence of Eramo's deposition testimony could impact plaintiff's ability to show actual malice.

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