An attorney for Daystar Television Network told trustees of an Orange County college district Wednesday that his client would sue them today for not selling KOCE-TV, its PBS station, to the Christian broadcaster.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, charges that the Coast Community College District violated the Constitutional protection of freedom of religion by not selling Channel 50 to the Dallas-based religious broadcaster.
The announcement by Daystar attorney Richard Sherman came at the Board of Trustees' first meeting since a state appeals court in June overturned the sale of the station to the nonprofit KOCE-TV Foundation, its fundraising organization. The three-judge panel called the sale "the rankest form of favoritism" and said the district must keep the station or hold a new sale.
Daystar has since asked the 4th District Appellate Court in Santa Ana to award it the station, and the district's trustees have asked for a rehearing of the case, a step toward filing an appeal with the state Supreme Court.
Sherman told trustees that he agreed with others who spoke at the meeting who said KOCE provided an important service for Orange County.
"Daystar didn't ask you to put up the station for sale," he said, adding that the district didn't follow the law when it came to that sale. "The whole process stinks. It's totally corrupt."
Milford W. Dahl, the district's attorney, said that the latest lawsuit, which will be filed in federal court in Los Angeles, was another attempt by Daystar to persuade trustees to sell it the station.
"It's interesting that Christians are suing fellow Christians claiming they discriminated against Christians," Dahl said in an interview. "Where is the logic in that?"
Later, outside the trustees' board room, Sherman and Dahl informally discussed a settlement. Sherman said Daystar was willing to devote 15% to 20% of its airtime on KOCE for local coverage and PBS shows.
"I'm sure some board trustees would like that," Dahl said.
The district decided to sell the station and use the profits to aid education. The sale also was intended to relieve the district from subsidizing KOCE by about $1.8 million a year.
Elliot Evers, the broker the district hired to sell the station, said he told trustees that televangelists would make the best offers, because they could operate under the same noncommercial broadcast license as a Public Broadcasting System station but make money by using the television outlet to solicit donations.
The foundation bought the station for what it said was $32 million over 30 years. Experts said the final deal was worth just $12.5 million to $19.5 million. It included an $8-million down payment with the rest to be paid over 30 years at no interest.
Daystar offered $25.1 million in cash and increased its bid to $40 million a day after the deadline. The district rejected the later offer, saying it came too late.
Daystar says its bid was the "highest responsible offer" and that the law required the district to sell it the station.
Daystar has charged that it would have gained the station if the district weren't so intent on keeping KOCE from a Christian broadcaster and in the hands of a group that would continue to run it as a PBS affiliate.
The suit alleges the district discriminated against Daystar because it offers "programming designed to promote and disseminate Christian tenets, teachings, beliefs and values."
It says the defendants violated the 1st, 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and says their actions were "designed to interfere with the plaintiff's right to acquire KOCE-TV based solely on the fact that plaintiff is a religious organization."
In the lawsuit, Daystar points to changes in the deal with the foundation that occurred after the bid was accepted. During final negotiations, the district cut $4 million from the price, saying that was money it would have to repay if the station were sold to a non-PBS bidder, and dropped the interest charges.
Daystar says that although its $40-million offer came a day after the deadline, the changes to the deal with the foundation came two months after bidding ended and consisted of a new offer.
Named in the lawsuit are trustees Jerry Patterson, George E. Brown and Walter G. Howald.
Trustee Armando R. Ruiz, who voted against the sale, was not named. Paul G. Berger, who supported the sale to the foundation, died in January.