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Judge Who Says He Was Slandered by KABC Reporter Loses Lawsuit

February 11, 1988|JESS BRAVIN | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County court Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who contended that KABC-TV Channel 7 had slandered him in a 1983 news story examining criminal court judges.

The story, by reporter Wayne Satz, had rated David Aisenson the worst of Los Angeles County's criminal court judges, based on a poll the station conducted of prosecutors and defense attorneys practicing there.

Aisenson, who retired from the bench in November, 1987, said the broadcast had implied that he was "the most incompetent judge in Los Angeles County, dishonest, a bad person, sneaky and immoral."

The story, aired over several nights as a special series, portrayed him as "the lowest judge of them all," Aisenson said.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Polis, while expressing "great sympathy" for a fellow judge distressed by sharp criticism, agreed with "basically all" of the station's arguments.

Lawyers for the station and its parent network, ABC, argued that Satz's reports were protected by the First Amendment and that as a public official, Aisenson should be subject to close scrutiny by the press.

Polis found that Satz's remarks were not defamatory and applauded the station for labeling some of the reporter's comments as opinion and for offering Aisenson and other critics of the segment broadcast time to voice their objections.

"KABC did everything correctly," Polis said. "It was as if they had a lawyer directing their every move. And they did, as Wayne Satz is a lawyer," Polis said.

Still, the Orange County judge said he sympathized with Aisenson's feelings.

"As strongly as we (judges) believe in freedom of the press, by golly, when your name appears in print and they are saying bad things about you, it still hurts," Polis said.

Aisenson was unavailable for comment.

But his attorney, Edward L. Masry, called Polis' ruling "tragic" and said he will appeal the decision.

"I think it's unfortunate that the news media, under the guise of investigative reporting, are permitted to slander and libel persons and institutions," Masry said.

Masry, who is ill, did not attend the proceeding in Santa Ana. A colleague appeared on his behalf.

Masry said Satz's comments were based on an "absolutely fake and false poll."

Of Satz, Masry said, "the one noble thing ABC has done this past year has been to terminate his services."

Satz left KABC in 1987, claiming that he was fired for broadcasting a report critical of the station. The station said he left of his own accord. He was last employed as an investigative reporter with Fox Broadcasting Co.'s short-lived variety program "The Wilton North Report." That show was canceled last month.

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