CHARLESTON – A federal judge has ruled that a civil judgment against a Clay County man who attacked a television reporter is not a dischargeable debt in bankruptcy court.
Chief Judge Frank W. Volk entered the order March 26 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of West Virginia granting veteran WCHS-TV reporter Bob Aaron’s motion for summary judgment against Howard Lilly.
In March 2016, a Clay County jury awarded Bob Aaron $11,000 in damages for a 2014 attack while he was out on assignment.
Lilly pleaded no contest in 2015 to a felony charge of destruction of property. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to drop felony robbery and grand larceny charges.
On July 7, 2014, Aaron received a tip on a potential story regarding neglected mules and horses near a home on Bomon Road and went to report on the story. While filming, Lilly allegedly took Aaron’s camera tripod and attacked the television reporter with it. Aaron was injured and the lens of his camera was smashed.
Lilly shouted at Aaron to stop filming and to “head down the road,” according to the suit, however, when Aaron informed him that he was on a public road and would leave once he was finished with the video, Lilly attacked him.
As part of the plea agreement in the criminal case against Lilly, he agreed to pay $2,800 to WCHS-TV for damage to the camera and more than $2,000 in medical expenses for Aaron.
After the civil trial, Lilly filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Dec. 20, 2016. Travis Griffith, Aaron’s attorney, says that was an attempt to avoid paying the judgment.
Soon thereafter, Griffith moved for summary judgment on the issue that Lilly “had acted with the prerequisite intent and maliciousness … to preclude the debt from being dischargeable in bankruptcy court.”
Griffith, who operates the Griffith Law Center in Charleston, said he considers this victory one not just for Aaron but for all media representatives working to inform the public.
“We, as a people, need to ensure the abilities of a free and impartial press to perform their duties to inform,” Griffith said. “This includes the right of a reporter to stand on a public roadway and inform the public on what he or she perceives.
“Walter Cronkite is noted as saying that ‘freedom of the press is not just important for democracy, it is democracy.’ Those who have taken it upon themselves to inform the rest of us should be able to do so without threat of attack from those who would choose to silence them.”
U.S. Bankruptcy Court case number 2:16-bk-20692