Judge files libel lawsuit against WTVF-Channel 5, reporter

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 10:37am

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.

15 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 6/30/11 at 9:56

I hope this case goes to trial. I think Eisenstein will get a surprise as his attorneys try to pick a favorable jury for him.

By: bfra on 6/30/11 at 10:28

It would be interesting to see all judges investigated and the findings made known to the public!

By: cityjvtao on 6/30/11 at 11:30

I too hope this goes to trial and that the facts support the judge. What passes for journalism these days is nauseating. Local news has become nothing more that ambulance chasing, hack yellow-journalism, with reporters answering to no one. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving side of these so-called investigative reports knows they can often be the target of thinly veiled suggestive headlines with little or no underlying facts. In depth local news reporting is a thing of the past and I for one would love to see the tables turned as one of these reporters squirms under the glare of the vary tools they often use to ruin other people lives just to boost ratings. Don’t be surprised if this case never sees the light of and is settled out court.

By: ncpreader on 6/30/11 at 3:12

to cityjvtao: You are so right that it is uncanny! Nice post. Williams should crawl back under the rock from which he was discovered. I hope this Judge is found to be in the right and Channel 5 is spanked along with Phil Williams. His stories make me cringe. I have stopped watching Channel 5 since he came on board.

By: lcl7337 on 6/30/11 at 9:21

Dan Eisenstein is a nice enough man outside of court but should not be on the bench. The real story is not the unlicensed psychologist but the way Eisenstein conducts himself while in court. Those who must appear before him cringe at his frequent blow ups and officers waiting to have their cases disposed of snicker at his juvenile punishments for offenders including making them recite essays on the Mexican drug cartels if caught with a bit of weed. Have a bench trial in front of him and don't expect a decision...ever. I doubt the man has uttered the words "guilty" or "not guilty" in his entire term. He simply throws his hands in the air and says "I just don't know." Why become a judge if scared to make a decision? His mental health court is in theory a good idea but then when I've had clients attend who are truly sick, he rants and raves at them (as if they know what is going on?!)

Critics of Phil Williams are usually those who have been targeted by him and those whose salaries are dependent on those he has targeted.

By: govskeptic on 7/1/11 at 4:24

These judges have all gotten together and probably urged Eisenstein in this
suit. They want to discourage any complaints or scrutiny of their holy robes.
Most of them work about the same number of hrs. per week as the Criminal
Court Clerk does. Phil Williams does an excellent job (only truly in depth
investigative reporter in Nashville) but never draws conclusions, but leaves that
up to others. This particular story had a great deal of smoke, hopefully it will
be thrown out or even better the "whole story" brought to light in open court!

By: Nitzche on 7/1/11 at 6:43

Phil should call his wife as a witness to defend his character.........when she gets out of that little"situation she is in", or maybe has been in? Investigate that Phil

By: Magnum on 7/1/11 at 7:00

"judge claims stories by a local television news station involving him were not only false but retaliatory in nature"

"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"

Sounds like a...let's say...peeing contest to me. Which is it judge? You sound like you don't like taking your own medicine based on the statements above. Let's see if I have it straight. You didn't let him out of the tickets because he had not turned a blind eye in his reporting to the General Sessions Court and/or traffic court. Sounds a bit retaliatory to me... I thought rulings were based on law not favor.

One other point on the judge. What is the history on similar charges. It sounds similar to getting pulled over when you left your license at home or have a busted headlight. You almost never get ticketed and even if you do, the ticket is dropped upon correction. My guess is nine times out of ten you'd have no problem dropping this. I also wonder how many "unauthorized dismissal of traffic citations outside of court" you let go through in the same week.

One final note, my comments have been solely critical of the judge, but make no mistake...I've been close enough to at least three news stories in my life where I watched a news report and wanted to throw my remote through the TV. Many of these reports are absolutely slanted. They are meant to make one party out to be an absolute demon and the other a helpless victim...and it sells as most of their viewing audience drinks it in. The worst part is that even if they determine they've grossly misrepresented the facts and/or simply gotten them wrong, there is rarely a retraction.

By: TharonChandler on 7/1/11 at 10:13

What if, in fact, he had knocked you down to the floor at a large gathering of people and then loudly shouted '******, ******, ******' out very loud at you while pumping his fist down toward you, on the ground injured (as one man, perhaps a part of a larger conspiracy, did to me in 1995).

And then You, as a good man didn't even think of sueing him in court for money, and so you just went back to your classes at college; though the guilty perpetrators seemingly then made a deal to Payy-off and silence several of those persons present, and to outright ruin your life, and not any good people wanted to recall the heinous incedent tho the others kept the intention alive.

What if that was what happenned to You ?

By: localboy on 7/1/11 at 12:07

Nitzche, I admit I've been living under a rock,,,to what "little situation she is in" do you refer?

By: nashbucket on 7/1/11 at 12:33

Why didn't Eisenstein dismiss the traffic citations based on judging Williams to be mentally ill?
In 2006 this excuse for a judge dismissed a case involving two defendants in a vicious beating and street robbery committed a block from the Belmont U. tennis courts on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The "holdup" as reported in the Tennessean was perpetrated by two men a third my age. Without provocation I was cold-cocked, held down and punched repeatedly in the head by one "sick" man after his accomplice tackled me from behind and began kicking me in the sides. I chased them and my wallet for several blocks before a witness's 911 call resulted in their arrest by two of Metro's finest.
My case was to be heard the day of a previously booked flight to visit my brother, coincidentally a dermatologist who I chose to treat my head injuries. I was on my way to the airport for the return flight on the day of the continuance, which Eisenstein set due to my earlier absence. But the D.A.'s office and Metro police both insisted that my court appearance was unnecessary because the case was a slam dunk: one defendant was apprehended with my wallet; the other was hiding his dead giveaway #10 Vince Young football jersey under an armpit.
Nevertheless, Eisenstein dismissed the case before Officers Parks and Huffine could be sworn in to admit any evidence. Before the end of the month one of the defendants went on to commit two crimes including a home burglary. On the day of my attack he was a parolee, his accomplice a probationer.
It wasn't until 2008 that the case was retried in another court pursuant to Grand Jury action. The additional years of jail time the convicts received must be weighed against all the crimes they may have committed before their eventual arraignment.
Dan Eisenstein's view of mental illness as the root of all evil prevents him from rendering sound judgment in criminal cases. He continues to be a menace to the criminal justice system.

By: yucchhii on 7/2/11 at 10:12

yucchhii Lol, Good for the JUDGE! I'd like to see the same happen to Channels 2 and 4. Because There have been a number of people who stay at the Nashville Rescue mission who arte "TRYING" to get back on the're feet again but are having a VERY difficult time because of "LIVING CONDITIONS" there. TEN - ELEVEN MILLION dollars in their budget and the place is sooo EXTEMELY NASTY. We have TRIED to get channel 5, 4 and 2, to investigate..BUT will do NOTHING!! Their excuse is "There's nothing news worthy of that!" Let me ask you, There's nothing news worthy of "VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS?" If you don't think it anything MAJOR, I CHALLENGE YOU TO POSE HOMELESS AND COME IN AND FIND OUT YOURSELF...DON'T TAKE "MY" WORD FOR IT!! They are either a part of the solution or part of the PROBLEM. At this point, they are a part of the PROBLEM!!!

By: pswindle on 7/3/11 at 10:47

I feel that Wiliams goes after to kill, and it is always his facts. If someone is breaking the law, why not take it to the DA to investigate.

By: Yancy Cline on 9/28/11 at 9:29

Pretty much just a moot effort... sad.

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By: jamie anderson on 12/20/12 at 10:50

Most Judges put great effort to avoid having thier misconduct exposed as they hone thier craft/skill of judicial corruption by practicing deception through thier trained demeanor and other tactics. They want/ need society to believe they are honest/credible. Judges created/adopted the J.I.D. (Judicial Immunity Doctrine) and placed it in American law, (Which no judge has such powers).Thats Congress's duty. Judges can enterpete existing laws, not make or pass any laws. Whats more troubling is the fact that neither of the other two branches of GOV have put the Judicial branch in check, so that its powers aren't abused or in violation of the U.S. Constitution or law, as the J.I.D. is. This doctrine enables any judge to violate anybodies rights even when the violations cause serious damages/injuries to whomever such a judge chooses to violate. All judges know they can do as they please, without any fear of being held accountable for the harm they cause to men/women and CHILDREN. They hide behind the very doctrine they themselves created, for themselves, for this reason, not the reasons they would have us believe. They have given themselves "NOBILITY", which is what Kings have which is what protected them from accountability. This is something that is supposed to be what separates America from its arch enemy, OLD ENGLAND. America has no King or anybody being Royal as everyone is equal in the eyes of the laws. The fact that judges have placed themslves above the U.S. Constitution and all other Americans proves that the evils 'WE THE PEOPLE" fought and defeated in the American Revolution have come to America and infiltrated our government, and that our gov is under control by our enemies. Congress passed laws intended to protect American citizen's from such evil, corrupt, oppressive judges,which was/is the exact same reasons JURIES were created, as well, but this legitimant law they refuse to enforce but avoided/resisted/ignored it instead, which allows any/all judges to do the work of evil, fluently. The J.I.D. was brought in through the back door secretly/quietly, instead of the legal/constitutional process, because they knew/know that it would/could not survive if it were argued/debated by Congress or anybody else because of its extreme unconstitutional/unamerican nature. It allows any judge to deprive anybody from receiving thier right to a fair trial/ right to equal protection of the laws/ right to due process of the laws/right to be heard or any other rights all Americans are guaranteed/promised by the U.S. Constitution/Government, which every judge and all other civil servants willfully swore an oath to support/defend faithfully. In other words, this doctrine allows/enables any judge to betray/defraud "We the People" and/or the U.S. Gov at will, by committing the crime of treason and without any fear of being punished for it. Government has put great effort into preventing society from knowing the truth about this UNCONSTITUTIONAL DOCTRINE, by controlling most main stream media outlets, etc. This is such a serious topic that we all should stand together and do everything possible to get the media to investigate and report on it because it's this that is the biggest problem in this country. (NO ACCOUNTBILITY to all JUDGES, and other civil sevants) Please take this seriously and discuss it until its addressed which is the only way it can be corrected. Our freedom depends on it. I wanna hear what society has to say about this doctrine, so speak up please. Thank you...