Judge dismisses police officer's lawsuit against WHAS radio personality Terry Meiners
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Jefferson Circuit Court judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against longtime radio personality Terry Meiners and WHAS Radio, finding that comments Meiners made about a police officer involved "a matter of public interest" and expressed his opinion about a traffic stop.
Louisville Metro Police Officer Sam Cromity claimed in a March 2012 lawsuit that Meiners disparaged and lied about him on the air after being given a speeding ticket in March 2011.
Cromity claimed Meiners referred to him as "Black Barney" -- an apparent reference to Barney Fife, a caricature of a bumbling, imbecilic police officer" and Cromity's black vehicle, that he played belittling songs about the highway patrol, and called the officer a delusional "liar" who was irresponsible, reckless and dangerous.
Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Mary Shaw ruled Tuesday that Meiners' comments were "non-actionable expressions of opinion" based on the March 18, 2011 traffic stop.
Andrew Horne, Cromity's attorney, said they will appeal the ruling, adding that Meiners called Cromity a liar but that Meiners' attorney admitted his client had been speeding in a recent court hearing.
"First Amendment rights don't protect false statements," Horne said.
In an interview, Meiners declined to talk about specifics of the lawsuit, saying he needed to talk to his attorney, but said that "I wish everyone in the world well. I have no ill will toward anyone."
Steve Pence, Meiners' attorney, could not be immediately reached for comment.
In court records, Horne said Pence, "initiated settlement discussions" with Horne before the speeding ticket went to trial and "specifically requested a demand or settlement proposal."
A District Court jury found Meiners not guilty of speeding.
Pence argued in court records that Meiners' comments were made during a "radio talk show given to robust, freewheeling and often intemperate discussions" and based on "nondefamatory facts fully disclosed to the listening audience."
Pence argued Cromity filed the lawsuit to re-litigate the traffic ticket trial, stifle constitutionally protected speech and silence his critics, according to records.
After the verdict last year, Meiners went to shake the hand of Cromity, who brushed by him before turning back and telling Meiners that if he was going to call the officer a liar he should do it "to my face."
The lawsuit claimed Cromity's reputation was damaged by slanderous comments and requested a trial and punitive damages.
Cromity claimed in the suit that he pulled over Meiners and another person on March 18, 2011, and was polite and courteous, but Meiners was upset about the ticket and used his radio show to "retaliate," disparaging the officer's character, competence and reputation.
Cromity accused Meiners of driving 75 mph in a 55-mph zone on the Watterson Expressway. The lawsuit claims Meiners implied Cromity was confrontational and Meiners felt he would be arrested if he complained.
According to the testimony and lawsuit, Cromity demanded an on-air retraction and financial compensation, claiming he called the officer a liar on the radio 15 times and referred to him as "Black Barney" and "Black Car Barney." The lawsuit alleges no retraction was made.
During the trial, Cromity, who is African American, said he was offended by what Meiners said and went to WHAS Radio to get a copy of the comments before going to an attorney.
Meiners told jurors that the "Black Barney" reference had nothing to do with race but instead was a reference to Cromity's vehicle, a black Ford Mustang, and to the officer's notoriety in patrolling that area. Meiners said he created a character combining the outlaw Black Bart and Deputy Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show."
WHAS Radio, named as Clear Channel Communications, was also named as a defendant in the suit.
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