Attorneys Say DA’s Libel Case Is Intimidation

     NASHVILLE (CN) – Attorneys for a Nashville TV station and its reporter say a $200 million lawsuit brought by the city’s district attorney is an attempt “to silence and intimidate a journalist and news organization.”
     Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk sued Scripps Media Inc. and Phil Williams in Davidson County, Tenn., last month for “a patently false story published by the defendants which alleges that Mr. Funk, in his role as district attorney, extorted money from a criminal defendant, solicited a bribe, and even blackmailed a criminal defendant into dismissing a civil lawsuit,” according to the complaint.
     Williams is an investigative reporter for NewsChannel 5 in Nashville, which was acquired by Scripps in 2015, according to the company’s website.
     The story at issue was published with the headline, “Explosive Allegations Emerge from David Chase Case: $2 Million Requested To Make Case ‘Go Away,'” Funk’s lawsuit claims.
     Chase is a Nashville real estate developer accused of domestic violence. NewsChannel 5’s story says a political consultant working for Chase requested $2 million from Chase’s father to make his case “go away,” implying that the money was used to bribe someone, according to Funk.
     “The defendants go on to claim that Mr. Funk not only solicited a [$2 million] bribe, but he also allegedly blackmailed David Chase into dismissing a civil lawsuit,” according to the DA’s 10-page lawsuit. Funk seeks $200 million including punitive damages.
     In a motion to dismiss memo filed March 14, Ronald Harris of Nashville law firm Neal & Harwell argued that “the news reporting at issue is protected by the fair report privilege.”
     “This lawsuit is an attempt by an elected public official to silence and intimidate a journalist and news organization that has accurately reported on questionable conduct and judgment by that official,” the 23-page filing states.
     The memo says the NewsChannel 5 report “does not contain false and defamatory statements” about Funk. Attorneys for Scripps and Williams say the story was simply based on a lawsuit filed by Chase in Williamson County, Tenn.
     “The [news] story did not state Mr. Funk solicited a bribe, extorted money from a criminal defendant or blackmailed a criminal defendant,” the March 14 memo states. “Instead, [it] reported on testimony and allegations that were actually being made in David Chase’s lawsuit in Williamson County. It cannot be disputed that the testimony and allegations quoted in the news story were in fact made in that lawsuit.”
     Funk’s attorney, James Kay Jr. of Kay, Griffin, Enkema & Colbert in Nashville, did not immediately respond to a request for comment emailed Monday morning.

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