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Magistrate to “La Civetta”: 5 million or i’ll bring you to court

The journalists Franco Oddo and Marina De Michele have been warned for articles on the Prosecutor’s Office of Syracuse, published between 2011-2013. Called in the Supreme Council of the Judiciary

Mr Maurizio Musco, Public Prosecutor of the City of Syracuse, with a formal notice sent by his lawyer, invited journalists Franco Oddo and Marina De Michele, chief editor and deputy editor of the biweekly La Civetta di Minerva, a fortnightly published in Syracuse, to pay him immediately five million euro by way of compensation for damages for defamation. The journalists refused. On November 25, 2016 they published the letter of formal notice (read) and have replicated in the following edition of La Civetta on December 10 (read). They also sent a complaint on Musco and his lawyer to the CSM, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary of Catania and to the Prosecutor of Syracuse, stigmatizing the request of five million euro so as not to pursue legal ways. They have published the full text on their newspaper.

The sum was to be delivered at the office of the law firm “no later than the deadline of 15 days from today”, that is, with effect from 4 November 2016. The notice contains the ” warning that failing to do so will trigger legal action.” Later it was learned informally, as reported to Ossigeno by the journalists themselves, that the actual figure requested for avoiding the trial was of only five hundred thousand euro.

Mr Musco complains that the fortnightly, with “a violent press campaign” against him, would have “seriously affected his personal and professional reputation”. The articles to which the case refers were published between December 2, 2011 and January 13, 2012, in the so-called season of “Poisons in the Prosecutor’s Office.” It is a complex affair that Ossigeno per l’Informazione has closely followed (read).

An important detail is that the formal notice with the request for five million euro was sent shortly before the expiry of the five year period beyond which the time-limit would have set in. As such, there was also a declared intention of interrupting this time frame and avoid such an epilogue. The warning triggers another five years time for bringing to court and judge the two journalists. So the sword of Damocles is suspended for five more years.

The journalistic investigations by Oddo and De Michele had disruptive effects on the courts of Syracuse, pointing to elements that allowed special relations – even business relations – to emerge between lawyers and judges.

After the publication of those articles, some parliamentary inquiries were presented. In March of 2012 the then Minister of Justice, Paola Severino, sent its inspectors to the Palace of Justice in Syracuse. Based on the findings, she asked for the immediate transfer of the Prosecutor’s Office managers. In September 2012, as a precautionary measure, the disciplinary section of the CSM (supreme council of the judiciary) ordered the transfer of the chief prosecutor Ugo Rossi and the substitute Maurizio Musco, waiting for the disciplinary investigation to take place on their work. The CSM opened a practice on Mr Musco for not having abstained from some individual cases. In the first examination, the CSM had acquitted him, but the Supreme Court ordered to reopen the practice against him.

In 2015 Musco was convicted for abuse of office to one year and a half in prison with a judgment by the Court of Appeal of Messina (no. 1679 of December 9, 2015, read more). That ruling – La Civetta reports – talks about a “serious and obvious” damage caused to the judicial function: the decision of the Supreme Court is now duly awaited.

The judicial pressure on La Civetta, a small newspaper managed as a cooperative by the journalists themselves, is very strong. This combative magazine has highligted glaring facts, proven and in the public interest and for this it has already had to face numerous trials.

Fortunately, around this small newspaper, from the beginning there has been an extensive social network of solidarity activated even after the request of the magistrate Musco. At the side of La Civetta, furthermore, many citizens have sided with them, as well as numerous associations, professionals, politicians, and local and regional administrators. Among them – as at the time of publication of the investigation – there stands Ossigeno too.

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