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Tenn. judge files libel suit against television news reporter

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Tennessee judge is accusing a television news reporter of having a vendetta against him and broadcasting a series of…

A Tennessee judge is accusing a television news reporter of having a vendetta against him and broadcasting a series of defamatory stories after the judge refused to dismiss the reporter’s parking ticket.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday, Davidson County General Sessions Judge Daniel B. Eisenstein alleges that Nashville, Tenn., television station WTVF and reporter Phil Williams broadcast false and defamatory stories about the judge after he refused to dismiss a parking ticket Williams received.

After not getting out of the ticket, Williams was “motivated purely by animosity” to investigate Eisenstein and the mental health court system overseen by the judge, the complaint says.

The news station’s attorney, Ron Harris, did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

The station’s first story reported on whether Eisenstein was under an ethics investigation by the state. In the story, Williams reviewed court documents in which an ethics investigator looking into another matter expressed concerns that his efforts might cause Eisenstein to ostracize the investigator’s daughter, who is a lawyer.

In his complaint, Eisenstein said that he was never the subject of an ethics investigation. The closest the judge came to being investigated was when Williams or someone working for him contacted the state and asked that they start an investigation.

In the second story, Williams focused on whether Eisenstein hired an unlicensed psychologist to treat patients as part of the mental health court, a program partly funded by federal money.

The report, based on paperwork filed with the federal government, said Eisenstein hired Jim Casey to work for the program even though Casey was unlicensed. It also featured an interview with a program participant who said Casey was her psychologist.

In his complaint, Eisenstein said he initially sought to hire Casey for a position in the program and filed paperwork with the federal government to that effect. But once he learned that Casey was unlicensed, he did not hire him for the position.

Instead, Casey was retained as an independent contractor who provided support and guidance for the program but did not treat individuals without being supervised by a licensed psychologist. The records filed with the federal government were never changed to reflect what had occurred, meaning the information Williams used in his story was inaccurate, according to Eisenstein’s complaint.

In the complaint, Eisenstein takes particular issue with the portion of Williams’ story in which he said “the judge had nothing to say.”

The judge, through his attorney, sent a number of letters to the news station’s attorney to explain the discrepancy regarding the federal records and to answer Williams’ questions. In the complaint, Eisenstein says any suggestion that he had nothing to say about the story is "absolutely false."

According to the complaint, the dispute began in May 2010 when Williams received two parking tickets from the police department for parking in a media parking spot without proper identification. At a hearing, Eisenstein determined that the ticket would not be dismissed before it came before the court on its merits. Williams ended up paying both tickets.