Author news – Ken Rossignol on ABC 20/20, GMA

Ken Rossignol, Author of the Marsha & Danny Jones Thrillers

ABC 20/20 Coverage of ST. MARY’S TODAY

See this ABC 20/20 news story anchored by Diane Sawyer and Chris Wallace on this case Part One and Part Two WUSA 9 News reporter Bruce Leshan won an Emmy for his coverage of this story.

 In 1991, the newspaper’s DWI coverage was the subject of a front-page story by Eugene L.  Meyer in the Washington Post and a World News Tonight special anchored by Walter Rodgers which aired on ABC television on Memorial Day weekend as the network’s holiday coverage of drinking and driving. A 2007 offer of a free coffin for the first drunk driver to kill himself during the Christmas season resulted in zero fatalities in the three counties of Southern Maryland due to alcohol as of Christmas Eve.  After victory was declared for the effort, and the offer ended, three days later a young man killed himself in Hollywood, MD. while driving drunk. News coverage of the Free Coffin Giveaway spread across the nation with ABC 7  (WJLA) reporter Jay Korff in Washington and Fox News airing interviews. A midnight raid of newsstands on election eve in 1998 by the Sheriff, 6 deputies, and the States Attorney candidate cleared out all available copies of the newspaper before voters went to the polls in order to prevent the public from reading critical articles about the Sheriff and States Attorney candidate. 


A federal civil rights lawsuit was pursued on behalf of the publisher by the firm of Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz, (now merged with BALLARD SPAHR) with attorneys Alice Neff Lucan as counsel and Ashley Kissinger as the chief litigator, along with assistance from senior partner Lee Levine, Seth Berlin and Audrey Billingsley,  resulted in a landmark First Amendment decision when the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals ruled that the seizure of the newspaper violated the 1st Amendment rights of the publisher.

The ruling Rossignol v. Voorhaar was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by the defendants, which was denied and a Federal Judge then ruled in favor of the newspaper resulting in a significant payment from the defendants to settle the case.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed an Amicus Brief in the case. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516 (4th Cir. 2003). Ashley and Seth Berlin successfully represented a Maryland newspaper publisher in a civil rights action against government officials, securing a landmark ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the defendants’ off-duty mass purchase of newspapers on the eve of an election, to suppress its contents and retaliate against the publisher, violated the publisher’s First Amendment rights. The defendants paid the publisher $435,000 in settlement of the action after this ruling.

Ben Bradlee, a twenty-year subscriber to ST. MARY'S TODAY, gives a few news pointers to Ken Rossignol in his office at the Washington Post. Photo by Patrick Pena
Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee, a twenty-year subscriber to ST. MARY’S TODAY gives a few news pointers to Ken Rossignol in his office at the Washington Post. ST. MARY’S TODAY Photo by Patrick Pena
Ken Rossignol with Juliet Ferrer of Panama translating, tells children the story of Rigel the Hero Dog of the Titanic.
Ken Rossignol with Juliet Ferrer of Panama translating, tells children the story of Rigel the Hero Dog of the Titanic during the 2016 International Book Fair of Panama.  Ken was one of the United States delegation of authors and entertainers among authors from around the world.

Today we are interviewing Ken Rossignol, author of the Marsha & Danny Jones Thrillers.

This interview is from

Tell us a bit about yourself.
As a longtime journalist and author, I have had the very great advantage of knowing real people, on the street in the process of news coverage and meeting thousands of folks at book signings and speaking gigs. That experience makes it easy to understand how people think and interact, especially on ships that are the backdrop for this series.

Describe the Marsha & Danny Jones Thriller Series for readers just learning about it.
If you are one of twenty-three million people who sail on cruise ships you know quite a bit about the experience. In this series of books, the goal is entertainment through the window of ‘what if’. What if the waiter bringing room service had a Glock on his tray? What if the grill cook at the pool buffet was smuggling bombs for a terror group? What if one of the women in the Yoga class was a former Secret Service agent ready to render a terrorist lifeless?

Who do you think would most appreciate this series?
Likely those who have been on more than one cruise and are looking past the first cruise for more adventure or anyone seeking a good beach read. Those who might be fans of the old Thin Man series or Hart to Hart TV drama might enjoy this series.

Tell us a bit about the protagonists, Marsha, and Danny. What inspired you to write a series about a husband/wife team that decides to break the boredom of retirement by becoming security consultants for a cruise ship company?
I was on yet another cruise and keeping abreast of world events I imagined what if the security of the ship was threatened; who and how would the first responders of the sea act to counter any threat?

Marsha is clearly the thinker and sometimes the brawn while Danny is usually the brawn but also has a somewhat sixth sense of impending danger and doom. Their long-time law enforcement experience combined with their deep relationship with each other is often the key ingredient needed to come up with the winning hand.

In addition to the thriller/mystery elements, humor plays an important role in the series. Has humor always been a big part of your writing? Or is this something that has developed recently?
The dramas in the past which were set on a cruise ship; think Gale Storm, Love Boat, even Gilligan’s Island…just for fun…all of them had humor as a backdrop to the human experience. Thus including humor – which is a key part of everyday life on every cruise I have been on either as a passenger or a speaker – is natural. I have written political humor using dialog or about twenty-five years and finding humor in politics isn’t that tough. If I could have had my ideal job upon graduating from high school, it would have been being a writer for Bob Hope. At least he would have laughed at my application.

How many books do you have planned for the Marsha & Danny Jones Thriller Series?
Given the way passengers react to the dangers and calamities of the Sea Empress and keep coming back for more, I suspect there are new adventures coming soon to the six books already published.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process, from initial idea to finished manuscript?

A good deal of each book of this series has been written while on a ship. I can write near a pool deck, in a lounge or on my balcony. With the rolling waves, the great visuals and constant contact with passengers and crew, I only need to conjure up the bad guys. The only added ingredient I need is classical music with my Bose earphones, and I am set.

Are there any authors how have influenced your writing style?

Sure. Walter Lord, Ludlum, Twain, Dashiell Hammett. Taylor Caldwell, Jack London and more.

How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since when you first started?

I treasure my readers and my editors.

How do you feel about the increasing popularity of ebooks?
The format doesn’t matter. Good books are always good books, and ebooks make it much simpler and easier for readers carry them around.

What are your goals as a writer for the next ten years?
Stay alive.

Is there any aspect of writing you don’t like?

Yes. Obituaries. I have written thousands and now only intend to write for bad guys in my books. I enjoyed writing them for friends I knew well and was a chance to write a final chapter on a good person. I did one for a friend and after staying up all night to lay out a three-page special I realized that I didn’t hold a mirror under the nose of my dead friend to make sure he was dead. As he was fully capable of staging the entire event, including having the cops call me to come to his house to identify him, I actually called his son to make sure he hadn’t pulled the grand champion of jokes. He was dead alright, and his memorial article was secure and safe for publication.

Have you ever had writer’s block?

When you are publishing to a schedule either on the news or trying to meet goals on books, you don’t get that luxury. That only takes place in the movies.

Do you write with a computer, typewriter, or pen and paper? Why do you use this tool?

I have used all starting at age twelve and computer is the best. I still have my old Royal from eighth grade.

You’ve also written a number of books outside the Marsha & Danny Jones thriller series. Can you tell us a bit about your other works?
True crime and maritime history are my passions. Both come to life in the Marsha & Danny Jones Thrillers as well. Piracy is a real kick for many folks, and I decided to dust off old journals of trials and pirate stories in my Pirate Trials series. The Hollywood pirates are fun and the real-life killers of the high seas from two hundred years ago need a more realistic view painted for the reader. Real Pirates and the Bermuda Triangle lore are two of the most well-attended talks I give on cruise ships.

What do you have in mind for your next project?
The third in the series of CHESAPEAKE 1850 is underway and will be done soon. This series follows a family from 1850 to the present time, and the setting is the greater Chesapeake Bay region. Real history is mixed with the fictional family. 

Is there anything else you’d like potential readers to know about your book?
The largest commitment of time for the reader in the series is in the first book. After that, the books are like dime novels except they cost more than a dime. They are intended to keep the reader interested, tell a tale and then get out of your life quickly without wearing you out.

More Information
Check out all of Ken Rossignol’s books on Amazon

This interview is from

Ken Rossignol tells the stories of the heroes of the Titanic including Maj. Archibald Butt, Capt. Arthur Henry Rostron, the Unsinkable Molly Brown and Rigel the dog – at the Pike County Historical Society.

At the Panama 2016 International Book Fair in Panama, Ken Rossignol reading to children from his book Panama 1914 small
At the Panama 2016 International Book Fair in Panama, Ken Rossignol was reading to children from his book Panama 1914.
Children's booth at the USA Pavilion located at the International Book Fair in Panama in August of 2016
Children’s booth at the USA Pavilion located at the International Book Fair in Panama in August of 2016

Seong Mo Lee double fatal Las Vega Nev 030515

Ken Rossignol founded the DWI Hit Parade to focus attention on those who choose to drive impaired.

The original DWI Hit Parade first appeared in the ST. MARY’S TODAY newspaper published on July 31, 1990. The listing was begun with the arrest of George Herman Bowles, of Leonardtown, Md.  Bowles was charged with DWI after rear-ending a vehicle which had stopped for a police car attempting to enter Maryland Rt. 2 from a side street.  The police car was displaying its emergency lights.  Bowles was driving an antique truck and doing a typical Saturday night cruise around Solomon’s Island in Calvert County, Md. His truck was the subject of a police lookout for a drunk driver. Over the years, ST. MARY’S TODAY published approximately 65,000 names of those arrested for DWI.



Thugs nabbed after shooting at each other across rush hour traffic after a basketball game beef in Great Mills, Md.

ABC 20/20 Coverage of ST. MARY’S TODAY

See this ABC 20/20 news story anchored by Diane Sawyer and Chris Wallace on this case Part One and Part Two WUSA 9 News reporter Bruce Leshan won an Emmy for his coverage of this story.

(In 2010, ST. MARY’S TODAY was sold to Southern News Corp. which changed the name of the newspaper and in 2011 Southern News Corp. ceased publication.)



No politician or ethnic miscreant was spared the pen of the talented editorial cartoonists of ST. MARY'S TODAY. This toon was drawn by Billy Woodward Jr.
No politician or ethnic miscreant was spared the pen of the talented editorial cartoonists of ST. MARY’S TODAY. This toon was drawn by Billy Woodward Jr.

St. Mary’s tabloid draws readers by shouting the news

September 10, 1990
|By Joel McCord
Baltimore Sun Staff Correspondent
Screaming headlines that often take up more space than the overblown prose that follows. An eye-boggling layout that is almost impossible to decipher. Page after page of photos of auto accidents and police officers arresting suspects in various crimes, especially drunken driving.
It’s St. Mary’s Today, a tabloid that erupted this summer from the ashes of a failed printing business to anger government officials, embarrass nearly anyone arrested for drunken driving and unabashedly huckster for the political favorites of its publisher, Kenneth C. Rossignol. …..

Screaming headlines that often take up more space than the overblown prose that follows. An eye-boggling layout that is almost impossible to decipher. Page after page of photos of auto accidents and police officers arresting suspects in various crimes, especially drunken driving.

….. It’s St. Mary’s Today, a tabloid that erupted this summer from the ashes of a failed printing business to anger government officials, embarrass nearly anyone arrested for drunken driving and unabashedly huckster for the political favorites of its publisher, Kenneth C. Rossignol.

He and a staff of three full-time and two part-time reporters work almost around the clock monitoring police radios, covering accidents, burglaries and convenience store stickups.

The paper also publishes a weekly list of suspects charged with driving while intoxicated and prominently displays pictures of those arrested.

 “No news is too trivial for St. Mary’s Today,” Mr. Rossignol said.

Critics call the paper trash at worst and the National Enquirer of St. Mary’s County at best. Yet they concede that it has a wide readership.

 “I don’t know if people are taking it seriously, but they are enjoying it,” added J. Abell Longmore, owner of the Ben Franklin store in Leonardtown. “

People are calling it trash, but they’re picking it up and reading it,” said James Banagan, campaign treasurer for William Edward Bailey, the only incumbent county commissioner Mr. Rossignol is supporting.

Critics complain of the heavy emphasis on crime and car crashes, the fawning coverage of candidates Mr. Rossignol is backing and the blatant shots at those he opposes.

Representative Roy P. Dyson, D-Md.-1st, a favorite of the paper who is in a tough primary fight for re-election, “gets mentioned more often than in his franked mail,” noted a reporter who covers the congressman.

Mr. Dyson’s news releases are generally printed verbatim.

 The pronouncements of Don Purdy, running to unseat incumbent Sheriff Wayne Pettit, are prominently featured in nearly every issue, while Mr. Pettit appears most often as the butt of jokes in cartoons.

Mr. Rossignol “has yet to call me and ask me if there’s another side to the story,” the sheriff said.

And an article in the most recent edition charged that Mark R. Frazer, a Calvert County commissioner running for the Republican nomination for Congress, has been arrested twice on drunken-driving charges, most recently in 1982.

The article, which contained comments from each of Mr. Frazer’s primary opponents but none from him, concluded: “Frazer’s heavy drinking at many political events has led some sources to speculate if the Calvert County commissioner has had a drinking problem or if he has one at this time.”

“People here are just waiting till he gets his a– dragged into court,” drawled Robert T. Jarboe, an incumbent county commissioner who has been all but ignored by Mr. Rossignol.

 “This is what newspapers were like at the turn of the century,” responded Mr. Rossignol, who publishes the weekly tabloid and four small, monthly magazines from a cluttered storefront in a shopping center just north of here. “They were tough and straightforward and used language people understood.” Mr. Rossignol uses language such as boozedroids, nerds and heathens to refer to the subjects of some of his stories. He accuses state officials of planning “GIANT FRAUD ON TAXPAYERS” in one headline and Delegate Barbara O. Kreamer, D-Harford, one of Mr. Dyson’s primary opponents, of getting “NASTY IN RADIO DEBATE.”

 “Editorial?” Mr. Rossignol repeated in response to a question. “There are editorials all through this paper. Is there a book somewhere that says editorials have to be on the editorial page?” Mr. Rossignol, who ran two mobile-home parks and a mobile home sales business before opening the printing business that led to the newspaper, proudly concedes, “I don’t know anything about journalism.”

 But he argues vehemently that St. Mary’s needed a local newspaper. The Enterprise, published twice weekly here, is owned by an outside firm — Chesapeake Publishing — and it’s boring, Mr. Rossignol said. In fact, he added, most U.S. newspapers are boring. “We’re not boring.”

 Critics, however, say the paper is an election-year ploy, designed to push candidates such as Mr. Dyson and Mr. Purdy. “There’s a tradition of this kind of thing in St. Mary’s County,” said Judy Pedersen, a county spokeswoman and former employee of Mr. Rossignol who has been the target of several attacks in his paper. “New papers crop up in election years, and it’s all to forward somebody’s agenda.”

Mr. Rossignol brushes aside such suggestions. But he also prominently displays campaign posters for his favorite candidates in the windows of his office and passes out their bumper stickers from a table inside. He denies accusations that he is financed by Jack Daugherty, president of Maryland Bank and Trust Co. in Lexington Park. Yet an ad for Mr. Daugherty’s bank is featured on the front page of every edition of St. Mary’s Today.

Mr. Rossignol refers to Mr. Daugherty as “my Godfather” and rents space in a shopping center the banker owns. When Mr. Daugherty, who had stopped in for a visit, insisted he was not financing the paper, Mr. Rossignol joked that “Jack denies me three times before the cock crows every day.”

 Mr. Rossignol argues that although he has his favorite candidates, his real concerns are crime that he fears is swallowing the county and drunken driving. “My brother was killed by a drunk driver 15 years ago,” he explained. “I thought I was over it, but maybe I’m not.”

 By publishing pictures of those arrested for drunken driving, he said, maybe he can embarrass people into changing their ways. By reporting burglaries, he might persuade homeowners to take safety precautions, like “get a gun and you just might ventilate some burglar.” And by being brash and controversial, he insisted, he can draw attention to his paper. “Everybody else is so damn boring,” he said. “I don’t want to be boring.”

St. Mary’s Weekly: Black and White and Dread All Over
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post  – Washington, D.C.

Author: Eugene L. Meyer

Apr 8, 1991   Page A-1

Bored redneck idiots plotted and carried out a plan to torch and entire new home subdivision near Indian Head, Md.

The owner of an auto cleaning and detailing shop used to be an avid reader of and advertiser in the weekly tabloid that some people here in St. Mary’s County affectionately call “the rag.”

But then Ron MacRae’s name and picture appeared in a report that the newspaper, St. Mary’s Today, published about his arrest on a charge of drunken driving. He cut off his advertising and stopped reading the paper.

“I wish him nothing but the worst of luck,” said MacRae, referring to editor and publisher Ken Rossignol, whose sensationalist publication is the paper that folks in these parts love to hate.

Unlike most media, black criminals were not immune to ridicule and criticism in ST. MARY'S TODAY.
Unlike most media, black criminals were not immune to ridicule and criticism in ST. MARY’S TODAY.

Rossignol, 43, regularly prints the names of those arrested on drunken driving charges in a “DWI Hit Parade” column. Since July 31, when he started the paper, Rossignol has run the photographs of 149 people arrested on charges of drunken driving, some of them on the front page. His paper, with a claimed weekly circulation of 7,000, regularly splashes photographs of mangled wreckage, the bitter fruits of driving under the influence, across its pages.

“We’re accused of being a single-dimension paper,” said Rossignol, whose younger brother was killed while hitching a ride in 1972 when a drunk driver picked him up and later drove off the road.

But he also runs stories about drug arrests under the heading, “St. Mary’s Today Hit Parade on Drugs.” Another column, “Breaking and Enterings This Week,” catalogues other affronts to the public peace and tranquillity in a county of 76,000 located an hour’s drive southeast of Washington.

Slot machine raid; St. Mary's Deputy Julian Schwab loading seized slots on van at ADF
Slot machine raid; St. Mary’s Deputy Julian Schwab loading seized slots on van at ADF

Rossignol reserves some of his most pungent descriptions for common criminals who prey upon the innocent.

In his pages, they are “dirtbags,” “low-life creeps,” “local scumbags,” “evildoers” and “heathens.”

ST. MARY’S TODAY photographers Dusty Cassidy, Terrence Greenhow, Spencer Stevenson, Natalie Himes, Patrick Pena, Alan V. Cecil and many others were on the scene of breaking news long before the digital era was ushered in; with the rush to have photos developed another challenge to publication. A decade-long association with WUSA 9 News along with NBC4 and ABC 7 in Washington sent photos and videos across viewers screens in the region and sometimes across the nation. This fire was started from smoldering mulch next to a group of condos at Solomon’s Landing in Solomon’s Island, Md.

“Showing the true colors of a coward,” he wrote in the March 26 edition, “local county dirtbags again picked on an elderly citizen and broke into their home, damaged appliances, furniture and floor coverings, leaving over $4,000 in losses for the 74-year-old resident . . . . Anyone who would like to rat on these low-life creeps can call 475-8008,” the county sheriff’s office.

Rossignol is a Rockville native and Montgomery College dropout who migrated to St. Mary’s in 1974 to run a pizza shop and be close to the Chesapeake Bay. He later sold real estate and owned a printing business. He had no newspaper experience when he began publishing light fare in free advertisers.

With his brother’s death in mind, his tone and mission changed last year after a drunk driver killed a pedestrian in Solomons, across the Patuxent River from St. Mary’s, and his own car was rear-ended there by another drunk driver. St. Mary’s Today hit the newsstands as a free, full-sized tabloid. In December, Rossignol started charging 35 cents a copy; recently, he raised it to 50 cents.

The helion behind the wheel of this car racked up some new cars and a pole on Rt. 235 in Lexington Park, Md. Just one of the weekly parade of idiots, sometimes dying to get in the paper.

In the months since, the paper has stirred hornet’s nests of controversy with its flamboyant style. It has attacked entrenched politicians and embarrassed lesser lights caught in various police enforcement efforts.

Lt. Leonard A. Potts, commander of the Leonardtown state police barracks, said he believes Rossignol’s listings of accused drunk drivers serve as a deterrent to others. But Sheriff Wayne Petit, whose re-election Rossignol opposed last year, sees little value in the listings or the paper.

With the big-city news operations kissing Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning’s butt, it was up to ST. MARY’S TODAY to break the news that the Governor was conducting an affair involving travel around the world with his deputy chief of staff. Soon the Governor’s wife dumped him and the Guv married his mistress.

“His causes are completely just,” said Larry Millison, a former county commissioner who has quarreled with the chain-owned biweekly, St. Mary’s Enterprise. Millison also has been a target of Rossignol’s editorial wrath, but defends him nonetheless. “He talks about DWI and drugs and waste in government. Regardless of who’s involved, he tells it like it is.”

Back in January, Rossignol stripped across the top of his front page the news that the county’s chief prosecutor had dropped drunken driving charges against the daughter of a former county commissioner. “My boss swears he didn’t know it was George Aud’s daughter,” said Florence Ballengee, a legal assistant to the prosecutor, State’s Attorney Walter Dorsey. “She has a different name.”

Ballengee added: “It’s the paper you love to hate. We call it `the rag,’ and we half kill each other to get to it. It’s all editorial, from cover to cover.”

Rossignol seems to relish all of the controversy, but adds nervously: “I never know when it’s going to be the last issue of the paper.” Rossignol said he’s never been sued and said he follows the cases of the people whose arrests he spotlights and reports the disposition of the charges.

Rossignol runs the paper with the help of his 73-year-old mother, who answers the phones and sells ads. Two former base commanders at the nearby Patuxent River Naval Air Station write regular columns, for free. The paper also runs articles about local and state government written by two stringers. Two others help with distribution and take pictures at accident scenes.

To spend an evening with Rossignol is to turn the clock back to the down-and-dirty days of police beat reporting when “legmen” chased ambulances to accidents and fires and police cruisers to the scenes of crimes.

In a Ford LTD with 151,000 miles on the odometer, Rossignol cruises the county nightly until around 4 a.m. each morning, listening to a police scanner and decoding 1029s (background check requested) and 1074s (not wanted) crackling over the radio.

One night last week, Rossignol arrived at the scene of a house break-in. The elderly occupants’ home had been ransacked while they were in church. Rossignol and Hung Dang, 31, his sometime photographer and sidekick, snapped pictures of the sheriff’s deputy emerging from the house.

“Hey, how come my juvenile {arrest} wasn’t in the paper this week, man?” the officer asked. “I was damn proud of that.”

Replied Rossignol: “My reason is, I didn’t know about it until now.”

The paper is printed in Waldorf on Monday, dropped off to 130 vendors Monday night and sold on Tuesday. Last week, it was late.

“You lost a lot of sales,” said Tina Reeder, cashier at the Hollywood Burchmart convenience store, when Rossignol finally delivered his bundle of newspapers there Tuesday afternoon. “It’s been aggravating us all day long. Some people said they’d been to three or four places” looking for it.

At the Liberty Full Service Car Wash, five employees each grabbed a copy and stood there transfixed by its contents. “This paper’s just become a habit,” said Patrick Dorsey. “It keeps me informed, because I don’t go out on the street.” Said Gloria Michaux: “It’s a Tuesday morning ritual around here.”

“This is the `St. Mary’s Enquirer,’ ” said Ben Greenwell, whose Sign of the Whale liquor store made the paper when a clerk allegedly sold alcohol to a minor. Printing such news is “the job of the newspaper, I guess,” said Greenwell, who was still advertising in it “for a couple more hours, anyway.”

(Editor’s Note: Ironically, Ben Greenwell, the father of seven, was killed on Dec. 9, 2000 when his vehicle was rear-ended by a drunk driver on Maryland Rt. 5 at Mohawk Drive as he waited at red light.  He and his family were on the way home from Washington, D.C. after attending a Christmas event.)

In So. Md., a Battle For News Loyalties

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2006
There’s a newspaper war brewing — with enough finger-pointing and name-calling to make Rupert Murdoch proud. But whereas media catfights might be the norm in a metropolis like New York City or London, this spat is occurring in the unlikeliest of places: rural St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland …..MORE

St. Mary’s County Settles ‘Newspaper Caper’ Lawsuit by Local Publisher

Capital News Service
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

WASHINGTON – St. Mary’s County has settled a lawsuit brought by the publisher of a local newspaper who said county officials conspired to suppress distribution of his paper on the eve of the 1998 elections.
The county’s insurance trust fund paid St. Mary’s Today publisher Ken Rossignol $425,000 to end the suit over the November 1998 “newspaper caper,” and St. Mary’s County State’s Attorney Richard Fritz is paying another $10,000 himself, according to Rossignol’s attorney. The attorney, Ashley Kissinger, said Rossignol was “extremely pleased” with the settlement. The outcome of the case “reaffirms the right of each citizen to speak freely of government and to choose what he or she wishes to red about public officials and candidates,” she said. Fritz and then-Sheriff Richard Voorhaar were both running for office in 1998 when a group of off-duty sheriff’s deputies and civilians rode around the county on the eve of the election buying up all the copies they could of St. Mary’s Today, just as the paper hit the stands. Court records say the Election Day issue carried a front-page headline that said “Fritz Guilty of Rape” and reported details of his guilty plea in 1965 to carnal knowledge, when he was 18, of a 15-year-old girl. The court said Voorhaar and Fritz supported and participated in the plan, which ended at 7 a.m. on Election Day after deputies had visited about 40 stores and 40 newsboxes, gathering up 1,600 of the 6,500 papers printed that day. Rossignol sued. But a federal district judge ruled in February 2002 that the deputies and county officials were acting as private citizens when they organized and carried out the newspaper roundup and did not, therefore, violate Rossignol’s civil rights “under color of state law.” But a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision nearly a year later in a sharply worded opinion. “It was not for law enforcement to summon the organized force of the sheriff’s office to the cause of censorship,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the published opinion. The deputies were on “errands of suppression” when they bought up the newspapers, and were acting in their official capacities that night, Wilkinson wrote. Calls Wednesday to Fritz, the county sheriff’s department and the county commissioners’ office were not returned. Attorneys for the deputies and for Voorhaar — who is no longer sheriff — also did not respond to calls seeking comment. But the decision was hailed by the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, one of several press groups that filed briefs supporting Rossignol’s lawsuit. “I think that’s a very important cautionary tale to any public official who thinks they can interfere with the public’s right to get information,” said Lucy Dalglish of the reporters committee. “I’m surprised it took this long.” The defendants unsuccessfully appealed to the Supreme Court and in 2004 the district court, taking up the case again, denied the defendants’ claims of immunity. An appeal by the deputies of that ruling was still pending in court when the settlement was reached Tuesday, effectively ending the case. Dalglish said the case will affect more than just free-speech rights. “The taxpayers out there should be paying attention to the fact that one of their public employees cost them this much money,” she said.

Errands of Suppression in the Dead of Night

By Alice Neff Lucan
(From May 2005 edition of the MDDC Press Association News)

The parties in the St. Mary’s Today lawsuit against various St. Mary’s County law enforcement officials have settled the case for $435,000, paid to plaintiff Ken Rossignol and his newspaper company.

Though the settlement amount is a healthy sum, the significance of the settlement goes much further than the money.

One of the goals was to “hold on to” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit decision in this case because that court said that the sheriff’s deputies, the sheriff himself and the current St. Mary’s State’s Attorney Richard Fritz were acting “under color of law” when they absconded with Election Day editions of St. Mary’s Today in November 1998.
That edition of the newspaper reported two stories that Richard Fritz and Sheriff Richard Voorhaar did not want published on Election Day. Fritz was elected to office; Voorhaar was re-elected. Whether the St. Mary’s Today stories would have made a difference in voters’ choices will never be known.

Apparently based on advice from Richard Fritz, the deputies went to some trouble to make it appear that they were acting on their own time.
When they went out on the “newspaper caper” (overnight, November 3rd), most were off-duty, all were in civilian clothes (except for two guns sticking out from clothing), and they videotaped themselves paying for newspapers.
The 4th Circuit looked through their guise and wrote, for example, that the store clerks selling St. Mary’s Today knew perfectly well who the deputies were:
“One clerk testified that he sold the full supply of the paper to defendants because they were police officers, had a ‘real intimidating attitude,’ and made it ‘real apparent [that] they could make my life here a living hell.’
So much for “private conduct.”
The deputies had another advantage because of their law enforcement jobs.
They could be confident, the court said, that they would not be prosecuted for violating Maryland’s Newspaper Theft Law because their boss, Sheriff Voorhaar, approved of their actions, and indeed, had contributed his own funds to the buyout.
Otherwise, the court said, “defendants’ efforts to prevent St. Mary’s County readers from reading Rossignol’s newspaper put them in direct peril of criminal prosecution under Maryland law.”
It is odd that the deputies thought that paying for the newspaper would help at all. The law makes it a crime to take away newspapers with “the intent to prevent another from reading the newspapers.”

Paying for the newspapers would have made no difference had the Maryland Attorney General, for example, made the decision to prosecute.

Most important, the court said the officers took these actions because of circumstances rising from their public employment.

“The actions here arose out of public, not personal, circumstances. Where the sole intention of a public official is to suppress speech critical of his conduct of official duties or fitness for public office, his actions are more fairly attributable to the state.”

This is the view argued by the Baltimore Sun against Governor Ehrlich’s decision to exclude two of their journalists from interviews.

The Sun’s case is on appeal to this same court.

The Rossignol decision ends with this:
“The incident in this case may have taken place in America, but it belongs to a society much different and more oppressive than our own. If we were to sanction this conduct, we would point the way for other state officials to stifle public criticism of their policies and their performance. And we would leave particularly vulnerable this kind of paper in this kind of community. Alternative weeklies such as St. Mary’s Today may stir deep ire in the objects of their irreverence, but we can hardly say on that account that they play no useful part in the political dialogue. No doubt the public has formed over time its opinion of the paper’s responsibility and reputation. If defendants believed its attacks to be scurrilous, their remedy was either to undertake their own response or to initiate a defamation action. It was not for law enforcement to summon the organized force of the sheriff’s office to the cause of censorship and dispatch deputies on the errands of suppression in the dead of night.”

This writer has been on the briefs in this case and represented the newspaper and its publisher when the incident first developed.

But the trial team, Seth Berlin, Ashley Kissinger and Audrey Billingsly of the Levine, Sullivan firm took this litigation to its successful end.



Censorship at 75 Cents a Copy

Deputies who bought up papers to suppress critical stories may have violated the First Amendment.

By Jane Kirtley
Jane Kirtley ( is the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Some sheriff’s deputies in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, were as steamed as the region’s famous blue crabs.

The November 1998 election was approaching. Their favored candidates, incumbent Sheriff Richard Voorhaar and lawyer Richard Fritz, running for state’s attorney, were on the ballot.

But the problem was that the local weekly newspaper, St. Mary’s Today, had a long history of criticizing county officials in general and law enforcement personnel in particular. The newspaper’s brand of journalism was robust, to say the least. It had called one of the deputies a “drunk,” another a “child abuser” and a third a “shoeshine boy.”

The deputies didn’t take kindly to this sort of abuse. According to court documents, they claimed that the paper was “unsavory” and published “outright lies.” What really worried them, though, was that St. Mary’s Today was due to publish on Election Day, and the deputies anticipated the paper would take potshots at Voorhaar and Fritz without giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

So, as told in court records, the deputies cooked up a scheme to “protest [their] disagreement” with St. Mary’s Today Publisher Kenneth Rossignol’s “irresponsible journalism.” They agreed to buy as many copies of the newspaper as they could from stores and vending machines before citizens could purchase them. They even planned to stage a “bonfire party” afterward. That ought to “piss off” Rossignol, they figured.

The deputies checked with Voorhaar and Fritz, both of whom approved the plan and kicked in some money to support the enterprise. Fritz advised them that it might be a good idea to get receipts to prove that they had bought the papers, not stolen them.

On election eve, six deputies set out on their mission. They were off duty, driving personal cars, and out of uniform. But two of them carried service revolvers. One wore a Fraternal Order of Police sweatshirt. And they were well known to the clerks in the convenience stores who routinely gave them free coffee and soft drinks.

When the deputies asked to buy all of one store’s newspapers, a clerk later testified that they made it “real apparent [that] they could make my life here a living hell” if he declined to sell them.

In a few hours, the deputies visited 40 stores and 40 newsboxes, cadging at least 1,300 copies of St. Mary’s Today, which has a circulation of 5,300. One witness later claimed he could not find “any papers anywhere in the county.”

And sure enough, as the deputies had expected, the paper carried a front-page headline declaring “Fritz Guilty of Rape,” referring to the candidate’s guilty plea to a charge of carnal knowledge of a 15-year-old more than 30 years earlier, along with a story about a complaint filed against Voorhaar over his handling of a sexual harassment claim.

Rossignol filed a federal civil rights suit a year later, claiming that the officials had violated the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments, as well as state law. A federal district judge threw out the suit, finding that the deputies had not acted “under color of state law” when they bought the papers, but as private citizens. And because no “police action” occurred, Fritz and Voorhaar got off, too.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals saw it differently. In a unanimous opinion by Chief Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, a three-judge panel ruled in January that the deputies’ conduct amounted to a “systematic, carefully organized plan to suppress the distribution of St. Mary’s Today” because they disagreed with its viewpoint, and to “retaliate against those who questioned their fitness for public office.” That’s exactly the “kind of suppression of political criticism that the First Amendment was intended to prohibit,” Wilkinson observed.

Just because the deputies were acting outside their normal working hours didn’t mean they weren’t using the power of their office to carry out their plan, the court found. Like law enforcement officials who conspired with Ku Klux Klan members to intimidate former slaves, “the conduct here…cannot be absolved by the simple expedient of removing the badge,” Wilkinson wrote.

If the deputies disagree with what St. Mary’s Today had to say, they are free to denounce the paper, Wilkinson suggested. They can even sue for libel. But as he concluded, “to summon the organized force of the sheriff’s office to the cause of censorship” “belongs to a society much different and more oppressive than our own.” One where the government, not the citizen, decides what is the truth and what are “outright lies.”

This article appeared in the American Journalism Review

4 Comments on “Author news – Ken Rossignol on ABC 20/20, GMA

  1. Mr. Rossignol,

    I enjoyed your book “The Privateer Clause”, and have started to read “Return Of The sea Empress”. In chapter 7, Loc 371, it is stated that “subs are armed with Patriot missiles”. Subs would be armed with
    Tomahawk missiles; the Patriot missile is an air defense missile, not an attack missile. This mistake should have been corrected in editing. I could not find your email address and I did not want to leave this comment in a review.

    • Norman, thanks for helping me out with the technical terminology of weapons. Lesson learned. I have been much more careful in most of my forays into such details and will arm the sub with the correct missile. I am sending you a gift of an Audible book for the next book in the series as a thank you. And, thank you. – Ken

  2. Wow! I lived in St. Mary’s county from 1990 to 2016. I remember hearing something about the, “Newspaper Caper,” but don’t remember ever seeing the 20/20 Expose’ or hearing about the rape accusations. I’m glad you won your court case. I wonder how Carla is doing, now…

    • As you could see from 20/20 report, a friend of Carla’s from high school contacted her and told her about Fritz’s characterizations of her so she came forward and set the record straight with WUSA9, The Washington Post and ABC 20/20. She returned to her private life after that. Glad you were able to learn “The Rest of the Story”.

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