In response to a judge’s libel claim, attorneys for WTVF-Channel 5 have asked the court to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the station's stories were accurate.
Judge Daniel Eisenstein filed suit in Davidson County Circuit Court on June 29, claiming the station libeled and portrayed him in a false light. The suit lists WTFV-Channel 5, station manager Lyn Plantinga, news director Sandy Boonstra and reporter Phil Williams as defendants.
“The news stories as actually broadcast do not contain false or defamatory statements” about Eisenstein, the filing says.
Reached for comment, Robert DeLaney, attorney for Eisenstein, didn’t speak directly about WTVF-Channel 5’s motion but said the next move for the judge would be to ask the court to delay any hearing on the motion for summary judgment.
“We believe we’re entitled to conduct discovery before we respond to the motion for summary judgment,” DeLaney said, “and we’re going to request the court to allow us to conduct it.”
Eisenstein is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a retraction of what he believes were “defamatory and libelous statements” included in two stories the station aired in February of this year and in July 2010.
In Eisenstein’s complaint, he claims the July 2010 story that asked in its headline, “Is Another Nashville Judge Under Ethics Investigation?” was “false and libelous,” and that the station broadcast the story maliciously, as the defendants “had obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy” of an assertion that Eisenstein was under investigation.
In its response, WTVF-Channel 5 states that Eisenstein’s complaint suggests the story was false because the judge wasn’t under investigation. But the story, according to the station’s filing, never claimed that Eisenstein was under investigation, and “simply asking the question will not support a libel or false light claim.”
Furthermore, after asking the question, the story follows it up with the statement: “Judge Eisenstein’s lawyer insists that he’s not.”
The story raised the question, according to last week’s filing, based on testimony in a disciplinary proceeding for General Sessions Court Judge Gloria Dumas from a Court of the Judiciary lawyer who repeatedly asserted a confidentiality privilege from testifying about Eisenstein because some of what Eisenstein said or did was “another matter under investigation.”
The other story Eisenstein claims to be libelous aired in February of this year, when the station ran a story questioning why Dr. James Casey — an unlicensed psychologist, as the story pointed out — was allowed to work with mentally-ill offenders as part of the Mental Health Court for Davidson County, which Eisenstein oversees.
The argument in support of the station’s motion to dismiss states that Eisenstein’s complaint doesn’t directly challenge the accuracy of the descriptions of the services Casey performed, but instead isolated other statements in the story, which were “taken out of context and ignore the true facts as well as what was actually stated in the news story.”
Last week’s filing states that Eisenstein’s complaint alleges that when the judge became aware of Casey’s unlicensed status Eisenstein didn’t hire him with federal funds provided by the Department of Justice but that the Mental Health Court Foundation entered into an independent contractor agreement with Casey.
“In fact, contrary to the impression given by [Eisenstein’s] complaint,” the station’s response asserted, “the news story itself does not say that Mr. Casey was hired through the Department of Justice funds but rather tells essentially the same story of [Eisenstein’s] counsel’s letter and the complaint.”
From that same story, Eisenstein took umbrage with a statement that the judge had “nothing to say.” Eisenstein, in his complaint, asserted that he in fact had plenty to say and did so through his correspondence from his attorney to the news station and its attorney.
The WTFV-Channel 5 filing states that Eisenstein declined on-camera interviews twice, and its story “made abundantly clear” that the judge “was speaking through his attorney.”
Further claims by the judge that Williams reported the two stories in retaliation for a June 2010 hearing “in which [Eisenstein] railed about Mr. Williams’ prior news stories” are “immaterial and irrelevant,” according to the news station, “because the news stories simply do not contain any false and defamatory statements about Judge Eisenstein.”
Because the motion to dismiss included information outside of Eisenstein’s initial complaint, such as full copies of the stories in question, the filing states that motion to dismiss should be treated as a motion for summary judgment.