Doctor wins $675,000 libel verdict based on anonymous Internet message

RICHMOND, Va. - A former doctor at Emory University School of Medicine has won what his lawyers say is the first libel verdict based on an anonymous Internet message.

A U.S. District judge on Thursday awarded $675,000 to Dr. Sam D. Graham Jr., who resigned as chairman of the school's urology department in July 1998.

In February 1999, Graham came across a posting on a Yahoo! message board suggested he had taken kickbacks from a urology company after giving his department's pathology business to the company and had been forced to resign.

The message was from ''fbiinformant,'' later determined to be Dr. Jonathan R. Oppenheimer, who had been a staff pathologist at the company and now operates his own labs. Calls for comment Saturday to Oppenheimer's company Prost-Data, Inc., were not answered.

Graham said he had moved to Richmond to go into private practice. ''Everything I've done in my life was honorable,'' he said. ''When I was accused of this, it was terrible.''

The judge called the Internet messages ''about as despicable as any course of conduct that one could engage in.''

Graham's attorneys, D. Alan Rudlin and J. Burke McCormick, said they believe the judgment is the first libel verdict based on an anonymous Internet message.


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