Appeals Court: Tennessee TV News Didn't Defame, but Maybe Showed Judge in F

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(Credit: WTVF, screenshot)

Last year, we highlighted a Tennessee judge’s libel lawsuit against Nashville TV news WTVF over reports the judge, Daniel B. Eisenstein, said were “false and malicious.” Eisenstein claimed that the station’s reporter aired libelous stories about him because Eisenstein wouldn’t dismiss the reporter’s parking tickets.

In question are two reports by reporter Phil Williams, July 2010‘s “Is Another Nashville Judge Under Ethics Investigation?” and February 2011’s “Judge Uses Unlicensed Psychologist for Mentally Ill.”

According to the ABA Journal, the Tennessean and the recent ruling, last fall Eisenstein’s case was “dismissed…on the basis he was a public figure” by the Davidson County Circuit Court.  But the Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case finding that Eisenstein “was not defamed by the pieces,” but they “may have presented him in a false light” by not including information.  This Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was “filed” July 30.

The WTVF report claimed Eisenstein “had nothing to say” for one of his reports, when Eisenstein’s lawyer Bob Delaney said to the contrary.  For example, according to the ruling, Eisenstein indicated he “had a lot to say” and sent “letters and other information” to the station — but that he just said he “was not agreeable to an on camera interview with the Defendant, Williams because I am mistrustful about the manner in which he edits or presents such interviews.”  The station countered that it was only referring to the videotaped exchanges, in which Eisenstein wouldn’t comment.

As such, the ruling found that “a reasonable person could find that the portion of the broadcast stating that Judge Eisenstein ‘Still, . . . had nothing to say,’ while showing him refusing to discuss the matter with Williams on the sidewalk, held Judge Eisenstein in a false light by indicating he was uncooperative or evasive.”

The ruling’s “conclusion” states the “case is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the trial court.”  Eisenstein’s attorney Bob DeLaney explained to iMediaEthics that this “means that the Court of Appeals sent the two false light claims it found to be legally sufficient to the trial court for discovery and trial. Since the Court of Appeals judgment does not become final for 60 days after its entry, the case will not be sent to the trial court for disposition until the parties have requested the Tenn. Supreme Court to hear the case or the time to do so has expired.”

DeLaney added to iMediaEthics that Eisenstein “is pleased under the Court of Appeals decision he will have the opportunity to present the merits of his false light claims to a jury in Davidson County, Tennessee.”

Williams defended his reporting, according to the Tennessean, saying “I have absolute faith not only in the accuracy, but also in the fairness of my reporting.  At the end of the day, I have no doubt that will be abundantly clear.”

The Tennessean reported that “both sides will likely appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.”  Eisenstein’s lawyer, Bob DeLaney, told MediaEthics that if WTVF appeals on the false light aspect, then Eisenstein may also “appeal the issues he lost.”

We have written to WTVF for more information and will update with any response.

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Appeals Court: Tennessee TV News Didn’t Defame, but Maybe Showed Judge in False Light

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