On Publishers, Journalists, and Lawsuits – by Enrico Fierro

Italian Journalist Enrico Fierro wrote a book about a Mafia murder, got sued, won his lawsuit — and then got screwed over by his publisher, Baldini Castoldi Dalai. A particularly egregious chapter in BCD’s long history of treating its writers and translators like sharecroppers — or worse.

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THE FACTS: In 2007, the publisher Alessandro Dalai asked me to write a book about the murder of a politician, a murder that involved both politics and the Mafia. The result was “Ammazzàti L’Onorevole”: L’Omicidio Fortugno—Una Storia di Mafia, Politica, e Ragazzi, published by Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore, 311 pages, €16.50.

The book concerns the assassination of the vice-president of Calabria’s Regional Council, Francesco Fortugno, in Locri in 2005. Fortugno was at the center of a story involving scandals in the Calabrian public-health system and the malignant entanglement of the Mafia in local politics. In the background were a youth anti-mafia movement,[1] hope for change, deceptions, and betrayals. In 2007, a number of the people mentioned in the book sued me and my publisher, asking the court to award them astonishing amounts in damages.

Dalai hired one of Milan’s most prestigious lawyers, Caterina Malavenda, who in turn partnered with Luigi Pasini, an attorney based in Padua where the book was printed. Seven years later (the wheels of justice turn just this slowly), the case ended in my complete acquittal. The plaintiffs had sought hundreds of thousands of euros in damages from me personally; they’d gone so far as to ask for more than a million euros from the publisher.

Acquitted, then, and on the basis of a curt statement of judicial motivation: “No doubt exists that the [matters related in the book] serve the public interest.” The public had an interest in the information in my book, that is, and I had done no more than exercise the journalist’s right to report documented facts, not rumors or backstairs gossip.

As soon as the lawyers told me about the outcome of the lawsuit, I called Mr. Dalai. He said he was delighted and satisfied (including by the rejection of the request for damages that had involved him as well). I detected, however, a distinct change in his mood when I mentioned that we still needed to pay our lawyers, Ms. Malavenda and Mr. Pasini who, for seven years, had defended us and ultimately brought us to victory.

At that point, Mr. Dalai told me that he was in no position to pay because “I’m in the midst of a bankruptcy proceeding.” He suggested I contact the new publishing house, Baldini Castoldi, managed by his son and other associates.[2]

I did so, and spoke to the woman who, at the old publisher, had edited my book and who, at the new publisher, had sent me a copy of the text of the book in .pdf so our lawyers could attach it to court documents. The response was a flat refusal: “We are a new publishing house and we cannot assume responsibility for old debts.”

I attempted to reach Alessandro Dalai again, but with no success. From that moment on, he vanished into thin air. Apparently, he had added my number to his contacts and, whenever I called his cell phone, he simply refused to answer.

There were, however, still the lawyers to pay—two people who had worked hard for me. And pay them I did, obviously, both because it was good manners to do so (I dislike having outstanding obligations hanging over my head) and out of an old-fashioned conviction that decent people honor their debts.

I would add that I have benefited from the friendship of Ms. Malavenda and the kindness of Mr. Pasini ,who reduced his fee to a bare minimum, but the costs of the lawsuit were still quite high, at least for someone in my financial situation. I paid what was due because I had no other choice. I paid on behalf of a failed publisher—a failure not solely in the formal, business sense, but also as a human being.

I did so by taking what was, for me, a substantial sum out of my family’s finances—that is, from the money we normally use to raise our children, see to their education, and look after their health (an issue that has, during this affair, been the subject of no small concern to me).

I paid for a book from which I have earned not one single euro, and I make this point in particular to the despicable individual from Calabria who accused me, years ago, of having used my book to get rich and to the rabble-rouser in Liguria who mounted a public campaign against me, defining my investigation “a wild goose chase.”

This, then, is my story—a personal one but perhaps not entirely. It’s the story of petty, disloyal publishers, of phony bankruptcies, and of what happens to books about the mafia. I might be tempted to tell my younger and less experienced colleagues they should never write books about Mafia barons and political corruption, but I won’t do it. Instead, I say this: write those books, let’s all write them and publish them and tell the whole story, with just this one note of caution in mind: Choose your publisher wisely.

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[1] The reference is to the Movimento Ammazzateci Tutti or, roughly, “They Can’t Kill All Of Us,” an anti-mafia movement born in response to the numerous murders committed by the ‘Ndrangheta in Reggio Calabria in 2005. Ammazzateci Tutti, the largest Italian anti-mafia youth movement to date, spread quickly throughout the country.

[2] In 2013, following years of financial difficulties, Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore, known also as B.C. Dalai Editore and Dalai Editore, asked a court in Milan to place the company in receivership. As the legal process went forward, meanwhile, Alessandro Dalai and his son, Michele, reopened the publishing house under the direction of Michele Dalai and with a new name: Baldini & Castoldi. In February 2014, the Milan court refused the request for receivership and Baldini Castoldi Dalai Editore was officially declared bankrupt. Among other debtors, numerous authors and translators went unpaid.

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