An Orange County court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who contended that KABC-TV, Channel 7, slandered him in a 1983 story on criminal court judges.
The story, by reporter Wayne Satz, rated David J. Aisenson the worst criminal court judge in Los Angeles County, based on a poll of prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Aisenson, who retired from the bench last November, contended that the broadcast implied that he was "the most incompetent judge in Los Angeles County--dishonest, a 'bad person,' sneaky and immoral."
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.
Superior Court Judge Robert J. 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 broadcast time to Aisenson and other critics of the segment 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.
Satz has since left KABC.
Aisenson's attorneys, who had sought $20 million in damages from Satz, ABC and several other KABC employees, said they would have to confer with their client before considering an appeal.
Andrew Millar White, an ABC lawyer, said the suit had had a "chilling effect" on news-gathering efforts. He said the lawsuit had been one reason that KABC had not broadcast any similar reports since 1983.
The case, filed in 1984, was sent to Orange County because Los Angeles County judges declined to hear a matter involving one of their colleagues.