Radio host Terry Meiners' comments about officer 'constitutional - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Radio host Terry Meiners' comments about officer 'constitutionally protected,' appeals court rules

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Longtime radio personality Terry Meiners’ on-air statements about a police officer who had given him a speeding ticket in 2011 were “constitutionally protected,” the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

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.

In agreeing with a lower court’s dismissal of that defamation lawsuit, the appeals court ruled the statements “addressed an issue of public concern, specifically, the integrity of a local police officer.

“Since Meiners fully disclosed the facts supporting his opinion, and those facts are not provable as false, Meiners’ opinions are constitutionally protected.”

Steve Pence, Meiners' attorney, said his client was happy with the ruling. And Pence didn't believe the case would be appealed.

"I think it's over and it should be over," Pence said. "It's been a four-year ordeal. It's pretty clear Officer Cromity has no cause of action against Terry."

Andrew Horne, Cromity's attorney, said they were disappointed with the ruling and considering whether to ask the appeals court to take another look at the case.

"It's a stretch," Horne said, acknowledging that the percentages are not with them. "He still feels very strongly about it, but at the same time, sometimes you need to put something behind you."

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 previously ruled that Meiners' comments were "non-actionable expressions of opinion" based on the March 18, 2011 traffic stop.

The appeals court agreed, calling Meiners’ comments constitutionally protected, “inactionable, opinion speech.”

A district court jury acquitted him of speeding.

In the appeal of the dismissed lawsuit, Cromity argued, in part, that he had been slandered, and it was up to Meiners to prove his statements were true. 

But Meiners backed up his opinion with facts from the case, and there is no “definitive” proof he was speeding, the appeals court ruled.

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 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 claimed 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 alleged 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.

 Copyright 2015  by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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