NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) – A local news channel said it did not defame a judge by “simply asking” whether he was the subject of an ethics investigation. The motion to dismiss comes one month after the judge claimed that a reporter cooked up the “false” story in a rage over a parking ticket.
NewsChannel 5-WTVF said the news stories in question cannot be defamatory because none of the statements about Nashville General Sessions Judge Daniel B. Eisenstein were false.
Eisenstein filed suit last month in Davidson County Circuit Court against WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5 Network, Landmark Media Enterprises, station manager Lyn Plantiga, news director Sandy Boonstra and reporter Phil Williams.
The 24-page complaint accuses Williams of launching an investigation and airing the stories because Eisenstein refused to dismiss the reporter’s parking ticket without a hearing.
NewsChannel 5 denied having an improper motive for its stories in an Aug. 1 motion for summary judgment. It added that, regardless of motivation, the stories did not contain false information.
“For purposes of this motion for summary judgment, however, those allegations about the alleged motivations behind the news stories are immaterial and irrelevant because the news stories simply do not contain any false and defamatory statements about Judge Eisenstein,” the 27-page motion states. “Although those allegations about Mr. Williams’ mindset or motivation are inaccurate, it makes no difference on this Motion, because there were no false or defamatory statements made in the news stories concerning Judge Eisenstein.”
To prove defamation and false light, Eisenstein must present evidence of the false statement of fact. “Summary judgment should be granted because there simply are no false statements about plaintiff in the news stories sufficient to support either cause of action,” according to the motion authored by Ronald Harris with Neal & Harwell.
Eisenstein apparently became irate when the station broadcast a story last year titled: “Is Another Nashville Judge Under Ethics Investigation.”
But NewsChannel 5 said there was nothing libelous about the story. “The news story does not state the answer is yes and in fact quotes plaintiff’s attorney several times saying the answer to such question is no,” the motion states. “Asking this type of question, particularly about a public official, is not asserting a false statement of fact and cannot be the basis for plaintiff’s causes of action herein.”
It says the story was based on the testimony of James LaRue, an investigator for the Tennessee Court of Judiciary, who was being deposed for in a disciplinary proceeding against General Sessions Judge Gloria Dumas.
“Statements made at that deposition by the Court of Judiciary investigator and his counsel specifically state there is ‘another matter under investigation,’ and that the investigation is confidential,” the motion states. “The person being referenced in connection with those statements was clearly Judge Eisenstein.”
Eisenstein “quoted statements from the investigator’s deposition as false without saying how they are false,” NewsChannel 5 claimed.
“These items in the news report that plaintiff now objects to are not only fair and accurate representations of Mr. LaRue’s testimony, but are direct quotations of his testimony,” the motion states.
NewsChannel 5 also defended the other story Eisenstein attacked, “Judge Uses Unlicensed Psychologist for Mentally Ill,” which aired this past February.
Eisenstein had claimed the reporter, still mad about parking tickets, then tried to dig up dirt on the Davidson County Mental Health Court and the Davidson County Mental Health Court Foundation – entities that Eisenstein had developed and organized.
Eisenstein said he tried to cooperate with the news station’s investigation by writing letters and providing proof that he knew about “unlicensed psychologist” James Casey’s lack of credentials and consequently hired him to perform tasks that do not require a license.
But NewsChannel 5 said its research shows that Casey was performing psychological treatment services without a license, and that Eisenstein knew it.
Eisenstein griped that the story said, “Still, the judge has nothing to say,” since his attorney provided documents and explanations.
NewsChannel 5 said this statement was true too.
“The news story accurately reported that when the defendant reporter approached Judge Eisenstein on the street, Judge Eisenstein had nothing to say to the specific questions asked,” the motion states. “The video of their encounter shows Judge Eisenstein telling the reporter, ‘I can’t discuss that with you now.’ It is true that Judge Eisenstein had nothing to say to the Defendant reporter at that time (which is all that comment relates to). The news story does not say the Judge had nothing whatsoever to say at any point in the process, as the complaint argues.”
The station points out that it made repeated references to what the judge said through his attorney.
“Even if it was false to state that the judge had nothing to say (which it was not), such statement cannot be considered defamatory,” the motion states. “As previously discussed, to be defamatory, a statement needs to be a ‘serious threat to plaintiff’s reputation’ or carry with it ‘an element of disgrace.'”
NewsChannel 5 said Eisenstein’s own quotations prove he knew Casey performed psychological services. “For example, in the Sole Source Justification Request, Judge Eisenstein referred to Casey as ‘an excellent psychologist’ and stated that ‘over the past year he has developed and published treatment programs and conducted weekly group therapy for triple diagnosed individuals in the Davidson County Mental Health Court,” the motion states.
Casey listed these same duties on his resume, according to News Channel 5.
There is no disputing footage of a woman who graduated from the Mental Health Court program praising Casey, whom she refers to as her “psychologist,” the motion states.
Poe appears in the video, quoting Eisenstein as having said: “I am God in this courtroom” and “You’re going to do what I say you’re going to do.”
“Since the video of the news story shows Ms. Poe in fact made those statements, there is no issue of misquoting her,” NewsChannel 5 said.
It added that Eisenstein cannot claim defamation over a line in the story that states: “For Poe, that meant being ordered to take psychiatric medications and working with James Casey who became her psychologist.”
NewsChannel 5 says these facts are past reproach. “The news story shows video of the interview with Ms. Poe when she describes working with Mr. Casey and also shows an excerpt of a video of the tenth anniversary ceremony in Mental Health Court where she thanks the Mental Health Court for enabling her to form a relationship with a psychologist, ‘Dr. Casey.’ … There can be little question that the Mental Health Court’s programs involve regulation of medication and working with psychologists and psychiatrists, as Judge Eisenstein himself told the crowd assembled at the Court’s tenth anniversary ceremony. That is also specifically true as to Jessica Poe.”