Barney Fife Comparison Won’t Sustain Lawsuit


     (CN) – A radio DJ did not defame a police officer on the air by comparing him to bumbling TV lawman Barney Fife, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled.
     Terry Meiners, the host of an afternoon drive-time show on News Radio 84, took to the airwaves after Louisville police officer Sam Cromity pulled him over and cited him for speeding in March 2011.
     On his WHAS news program later that day, Meiners claimed he was not speeding and did not deserve a ticket.
     Meiners called Cromity a “troubled public servant,” an “out-and-out liar” and “delusional.”
     The radio host also referred to Cromity as “Black Car Barney,” referencing Deputy Barney Fife from “The Andy Griffith Show.”
     Meiners was eventually acquitted of driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone, but Cromity hit him with a civil complaint back in 2012 for defamation and false light.
     The trial judge in Jefferson County ruled for Meiners and Clear Channel, which operates WHAS, finding that the DJ’s on-air remarks were “commentary involving a matter of public interest and are non-actionable expressions of opinion.”
     Cromity appealed, arguing that Meiners was not a member of the press and that his statements are not universally protected free speech.
     The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed late last month.
     “Here, we believe Meiners fully disclosed the facts behind his assertion that Cromity lied, sharing the entire story of his traffic stop along with his opinion,” Judge Laurance VanMeter wrote for a three-person panel.
     The judges also found it relevant that Meiners was acquitted of speeding.
     “While we agree with Cromity that this acquittal is not definitive proof of the truth of Meiners’ claim that he was not speeding, it certainly does not weigh in Cromity’s favor,” the Sept. 25 opinion states.
     “Disparaging statements that are not so definite or precise to be branded false cannot support an action for defamation,” VanMeter added.

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