A Nashville General Sessions judge claims stories by a local television news station involving him were not only false but retaliatory in nature, and he's filed a lawsuit to that effect.
Judge Daniel B. Eisenstein filed suit against WTVF-Channel 5 Wednesday afternoon in Davidson County Circuit Court, claiming the station libeled and portrayed him in a false light.
He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the retraction of what he believes were “defamatory and libelous statements” included in stories the station aired in February of this year and last summer.
The suit lists the station’s parent company, Landmark Media Enterprises, station manager Lyn Plantinga, news director Sandy Boonstra and reporter Phil Williams as defendants.
Reached for comment, Boonstra said, “We take something like this very seriously, but we stand by our stories."
Boonstra said she didn’t want to comment any further, as she'd not yet had a chance to thoroughly review the lawsuit. Plantinga declined to comment. Messages left for Williams seeking comment were not immediately returned.
WTVF-Channel 5 attorney Ron Harris, of Neal & Harwell PLC, told The City Paper, “NewsChannel 5 disputes the allegations made against it and its reporter. We don’t believe they’re valid claims, and we’ll seek to dismiss the lawsuit at the appropriate time.”
According to Eisenstein’s suit, WTVF-Channel 5 ran a “false and libelous” story in July 2010 that asked in its headline, “Is Another Nashville Judge Under Ethics Investigation?” The suit claims the station broadcast the story maliciously, and that the defendants knew the assertion was false or “had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy” of an assertion that Eisenstein was under investigation.
In February of this year, the station ran a story that questioned why Dr. James Casey — an unlicensed psychologist, as the story pointed out — was allowed to work with and treat mentally ill offenders as part of the Mental Health Court for Davidson County, which Eisenstein oversees.
The judge didn’t speak on camera for the story, reported by Williams. In the lawsuit, however, Eisenstein states that he didn’t hire Casey as a licensed psychologist but contracted with him for work that didn’t require a license, something he claims he made very clear to WTVF-Channel 5 in letters through his attorney to the station prior to the story’s broadcast.
Eisenstein claims the investigations that led to those stories resulted from a June 2010 hearing he presided over regarding two parking tickets reporter Williams received one day in May 2010 for parking in a media parking/loading zone without properly identifying his vehicle.
After police learned that the vehicle belonged to Williams and that he had been at police headquarters as it related to his job as a reporter, a police captain wrote a letter to the Traffic Violation Bureau explaining what happened. The captain asked that one of the tickets be dismissed and that Williams be heard in court on the first ticket.
But that request apparently raised a red flag for Eisenstein, who claims in the suit that it “appeared to fly in the face” of a memo signed by Mayor Karl Dean in May 2009 regarding the unauthorized dismissal of traffic citations outside of court.
On June 23, 2010, the judge held a hearing on “the lawfulness and propriety of the request,” according to the suit, during which he questioned Metro police employees on why a request was made to dismiss one of the tickets issued to Williams — who in the past had written stories critical of the General Sessions Court and traffic court, claiming some people could get out of tickets depending on whom they knew.
Eisenstein decided the two tickets should be decided during the traffic docket on which they were regularly set to appear. He made no determination on them or whether police employees acted improperly.
Williams later paid both the parking tickets before the July court hearing.
Eisenstein goes on to claim in the suit that “Williams or someone acting upon his direction” provided a recording of the June 23 hearing to the disciplinary counsel for the Court of Judiciary of Tennessee “in an effort to have the Court of Judiciary … conduct an investigation of the Plaintiff, Eisenstein.”
The judge claims following that series of events, Williams started working on an investigative story about Eisenstein out of retaliation, leading to the subsequent stories he claims are false.
Attorney Robert L. DeLaney, of Tune, Entrekin & White PC, is representing Eisenstein in the matter.