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Judge denies motion to enjoin broadcast of hospital news story

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Judge denies motion to enjoin broadcast of hospital news story 03/10/97 FLORIDA--In early February, a circuit court judge in Fort…

Judge denies motion to enjoin broadcast of hospital news story

03/10/97

FLORIDA–In early February, a circuit court judge in Fort Myers denied a hospital’s motion to enjoin a television station from airing a news story about a lawsuit filed by two nurses who claimed that they were fired from a hospital for speaking out about mismanagement. The hospital has subpoenaed a reporter and the station’s records custodian for depositions in the lawsuit.

WINK-TV prepared a story about the wrongful discharge lawsuit filed by Karen Widmann and Sandra Clifford. The nurses alleged in their complaint that an incident involving the death of an unborn child at East Pointe Hospital supported their claims that the institution was understaffed. The incident occurred two weeks after the nurses were fired. The hospital learned through promotional announcements that WINK planned to air the story on its “Six O’Clock News” program.

The hospital asked the station not to broadcast the story because it contained “inaccuracies.” After the station declined to pull the story, the hospital moved for a temporary injunction to prevent the station from airing the story because it contained “false or misleading facts” about the hospital’s staffing levels, the training and quality of its nurses, and its responsibility for the death of the fetus. According to the hospital, the broadcast would result in irreparable harm to its reputation.

After conducting a hearing, Circuit Judge R. Thomas Corbin in Lee County denied the hospital’s motion to restrain WINK, stating that prior restraints are disfavored unless the “strict standards” of such cases are met. The court also noted that all the information in the case, including the court file, has been publicly available since 1995.

In a further development, the hospital in late February subpoenaed a news reporter and the station’s records custodian to appear for depositions in the lawsuit. The hospital seeks access to “all documents” including “edited or unedited” video and audio tape and any notes of interviews with Widmann and Clifford concerning their employment at the hospital. WINK’s counsel has moved to quash the subpoenas, arguing that the information can be obtained from other sources, is not relevant to the lawsuit, and constitutes the reporter’s work product. Alternatively, the station seeks a protective order limiting the subpoenas to broadcasted material.

The depositions of the station personnel are scheduled for March 19. The court has scheduled a hearing on the motion to quash or for a protective order for March 17. (East Pointe Hospital v. Fort Myers Broadcasting Co.; Media Counsel: Steven Carta, Fort Myers)