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Anne Arundel County

Survivors, families of victims of Capital newsroom attack aim to settle lawsuit against Baltimore Sun, others

The parties involved in a lawsuit regarding the deadly 2018 attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom have reached out-of-court agreements, their attorneys indicated in a court filing.

The families of slain Capital employees Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, along with some surviving employees, are now expecting to complete agreements with The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing, as well as St. John Properties, owner of the 888 Bestgate Road office building where the shooting took place, according to a Thursday court filing.

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In a Thursday court filing, attorneys said they resolved a brief dispute and that completion of the various agreements is “now underway or expected to commence soon.”

The terms of the settlement were not included in the filings. Attorneys for the parties involved either declined to comment or did not respond to calls for comment.

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The negligence lawsuit states the June 28, 2018 attack in Annapolis was “a preventable tragedy,” saying that if the defendants had “taken reasonable steps to protect The Capital and its employees,” the gunman “would have been detected and stopped prior to entering The Capital’s newsroom, and he may never have attempted the assault at all.”

Over the past year, the attorneys have argued over whether or not The Sun and Tribune had a duty to protect The Capital’s employees, and whether St. John had failed to install security features that would have prevented the attack. The Capital is owned by Baltimore Sun Media, which is a subsidiary of Tribune Publishing.

In an extensive complaint filed last year, the plaintiffs said the newspaper companies “certainly should have known” that Jarrod Ramos was a threat to journalists at The Capital due to litigation between him and the company, as well as a series of communications and tweets dating back to 2011 where he threatened employees.

On June 28, 2018, Ramos blasted his way into The Capital’s office at 888 Bestgate armed with a shotgun, smoke bombs and a device that blocked his victims from fleeing. He shot and killed five employees. Six other employees inside the newsroom survived either by fleeing or hiding from Ramos.

After pleading guilty and being found criminally responsible for his actions, Ramos was sentenced in September 2021 to six terms of life in prison, five without the possibility of parole, plus 345 years — all to be served consecutively.

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According to the civil lawsuit, The Sun and Tribune failed to conduct a security review and secure the newsroom against threats when The Capital’s offices moved from Capital Drive to 888 Bestgate, despite knowing of risks to journalists and having stronger security at The Sun’s own office in Baltimore.

James P. Ulwick, a Baltimore attorney representing The Baltimore Sun and Tribune, argued in a motion that Tribune “wasn’t legally responsible for the criminal behavior of a third person.”

Maryland law takes a “traditional” viewpoint toward negligence claims, requiring strong evidence to succeed, according to John Lynch, a longtime professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Most negligence cases that involve the criminal conduct of another person would need to prove “exceptional circumstances,” such as The Sun clearly knowing that there was a specific risk of violence in the newsroom, Lynch said.

The terms of the settlement are not public, and may never be public. Civil settlements often include confidentiality as a powerful “bargaining chip” in discussions, Lynch said. The terms and any monetary compensation will depend on how much weight their arguments would hold in court. The amount also could go up if the defendants wanted to avoid the publicity of holding a trial, he said.

“The likelihood of success is figured into the settlement,” Lynch said. If the parties believed there was clear liability, a monetary settlement could be worth millions.

If the settlement is finalized, it will avoid a jury trial that is currently scheduled to last nearly a month next fall. No other hearings are docketed on the matter.


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