Rolling Stone magazine seeks overturn of rape story verdict in Virginia court

Attorneys for Rolling Stone magazine were back in federal court on Thursday seeking to overturn a $3 million defamation verdict over publication’s retracted story about an alleged University of Virginia gang rape, a court spokeswoman said.

U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad heard arguments in Roanoke, Virginia, on Rolling Stone’s request to throw out the November jury verdict that found the magazine and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely had defamed university administrator Nicole Eramo.

Following a three-week trial last year, the jury found that the magazine and author were guilty of actual malice, a key element in libel law, in six statements in the November 2014 story “A Rape on Campus.”

The article played a key role in sparking a national debate about sex assault on university campuses. While the article was discredited as depicting an assault that never occurred, campus sexual assault remains a very real problem, with some reports estimating that one in five female students will be a victim during their college years.

The magazine has argued in court papers that there is no evidence that Erdely acted with actual malice in the story and that the jury erred in finding that the story had been republished.

The magazine’s story said that a female student identified only as “Jackie” was gang raped at a university fraternity. Rolling Stone retracted the story and a police investigation found no evidence to support Jackie’s claims.

Eramo accused the magazine of portraying her as the story’s villain and as being focused on hushing up sexual assault reports.

Conrad has not indicated when he might issue his ruling, the spokeswoman said.