Channel 5 asks judge to dismiss libel suit

Monday, August 8, 2011 at 5:02pm

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. 

8 Comments on this post:

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 7:43

Judge Eisenstein is attempting to throttle the free press by using legalistic bullying tactics, to intimidate his critics.

Such irresponsible behavior and his arrogant abuse of his judicial authority is intolerable.

The man is dirty. Throw the bum out.

By: bfra on 8/9/11 at 7:56

Loner, if they did that to all the judges that deserve it, we wouldn't have many judges left, if any. lol

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 8:18

So be it, Bfra....so be it.

An out-of-control family court judge cost my family untold misery and over a hundred grand to regain custody of my grandson...the woman-hating idiot judge had granted custody to the boy's deadbeat biological dad....it was a two-year ordeal....it went all the way to the New York State Supreme Court. We were the victims of a modern-day witch-hunt.

By the way, my Summer retreat went well...it's good to be back.

By: bfra on 8/9/11 at 8:30

Loner, glad you had a good Summer retreat, posters have been asking about you. Similiar happened to my daughter and that judge is now a State Supreme Court Judge. Kiss up goes a long way in TN for judges, it seems, especially inept ones.

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 8:49

Thanks you, Bfra, Captain Nemo called me and said that I was missed.

I took 9 weeks off...no posting or internet activity. I'm tanned and rested....ready to take on the righties, the baggers, the fundamentalists, the gunners, the secessionists and the assorted fruits and nuts who frequent these boards.

Let's go for it.

By: Loner on 8/9/11 at 9:39

From this article: "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."

So, the judge thinks that this is merely a story about a billing error? Judge Eisenstein apparently thinks that its fine to staff his areas of responsibility with unlicensed professionals, to work with mentally ill offenders.

How many other unlicensed and/or unqualified people are working on Judge Eisentstein's farm? Whose footing the bill?

With all due respect, Judge Eisenstein's obvious lack of sound judgment is on display here.

The good judge doth protest too much methinks....his bullying tactics may backfire... the public can now see the man for what he is....this guy has to go.

I await an online response from Judge Eisenstein.....or will he merely sue the NCP and this "Loner" character?

By: Loner on 8/10/11 at 7:07

Still waiting for the bully judge to respond....I'm quite certain that some staffer has alerted the judge to this NCP article; a smart operator like that has underlings that keep him informed.....so where is the response from this normally loquacious grand-stander?

By: Loner on 8/11/11 at 9:52

Still waiting.