Davidson County General Sessions Court Judge Dan Eisenstein’s lawsuit against NewsChannel5 and reporter Phil Williams will be remanded back to trial court to settle false light claims after the Tennessee Court of Appeals decision this afternoon.
The court cleared the news station and Williams of most of Eisenstein’s charges against them, but two false light issues stemming from a Feb. 28, 2011, broadcast will be sent back to Davidson County Circuit Court — which originally dismissed all the claims.
Eisenstein sued NewsChannel5 and Williams for libel and false light claims in 2010 after Williams aired two critical stories about the judge.
The Court of Appeals found no evidence of libel or false light in the first story, which aired under the headline “Is Another Nashville Judge Under Ethics Investigation?”
The court did, however, find elements of false light in another story, which questioned Eisenstein’s hiring of unlicensed psychologist James Casey to work in Mental Health court and treat criminal offenders with mental illnesses.
But appeals court Judge Andy Bennett wrote in the decision that Williams left out key portions of the story to portray Eisenstein in a false light. In one part of the story, Williams failed to mention that Eisenstein had dropped a grant request to the Department of Justice after finding out Casey was unlicensed.
“The portion of the broadcast concerning submission of the funding request to the Department of Justice could be viewed as holding Judge Eisenstein in a false light by implying he lied to the Department of Justice,” Bennett wrote.
The Court of Appeals also singled out Williams’ style of reporting. After receiving a “no comment” from Eisenstein on the way to his car, Williams said in the broadcast that Eisenstein “Still ... had nothing to say.” Eisenstein maintained that he released statements through his lawyer, which were also used in the broadcast.
“[Williams] held Judge Eisenstein in a false light by indicating he was uncooperative or evasive, even though the broadcast also mentioned information supplied by his lawyer,” Bennett wrote.
On the ruling, NewsChannel5’s attorney Ronald Harris of Neal & Harwell said, “We’re obviously pleased that the court upheld the dismissal of all the libel claims, but we were disappointed that after finding all the statements in the news stories were true that the case was still going to be allowed to continue.”
Rob Delaney, Eisenstein’s attorney, said he’s looking forward to continuing the case. “We’re pleased with the outcome, and it looks like we’re back in the trial court,” Delaney said. “We’ll go back to the trial court and hopefully have the opportunity to conduct some discovery and carry on with the case.”