Arizona judge tosses suit against Fox News Network
Friday, February 14, 2014
PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona judge has thrown out a lawsuit against Fox News Network for airing live video of a carjacking suspect who killed himself during a police chase and not using a time delay that would have prevented the death from being broadcast on national television.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea dismissed the lawsuit Jan. 30. It alleged that the children of JoDon Romero, 33, suffered emotional distress from having seen video of their father fatally shooting himself in September 2012 at the end of an 80-mile car chase.
David Bodney, a lawyer representing Fox News, said the judge found the network's coverage was protected by the First Amendment and that those pushing the lawsuit didn't satisfy the essential elements of claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress.
"It was truthful," Bodney said of the coverage. "It's a matter of public concern."
The lawsuit was filed by Angela Rodriguez, the mother of Romero's three sons, ages 15, 13 and 9. Rodriguez also had sued Fox Entertainment Group Inc. and Fox's parent company, News Corp., but later dropped them from the lawsuit, leaving Fox News Network as its target.
Joel Robbins, the attorney for Rodriguez, said he'll appeal the ruling to a state appeals court.
"The First Amendment has some limitations," Robbins said.
Fox News was covering the chase using a live helicopter shot from Phoenix affiliate KSAZ-TV. As the death aired, anchor Shepard Smith repeatedly urged his show's crew to cut away from the live shot. He apologized to viewers and said the video was supposed to be on a delay so it could be cut off if something went awry.
The lawsuit said the Phoenix affiliate succeeded in using a delay to cut away before the death aired.
The chase began in Phoenix when police say Romero apparently hit a passing car with his hand, leading to a call to police. As officers were heading to the scene, police say Romero stole a car at gunpoint and an hour-long pursuit began on an interstate west of Phoenix. Authorities say Romero opened fire and eventually drove off into the desert, got out of the car, began walking down a dirt road and killed himself.
The lawsuit said a rumor at the school of Romero's sons had generated buzz among students about a televised suicide, so the two older boys went home and viewed the video on YouTube.
Lawyers for Fox News sought the lawsuit's dismissal, saying it regretted airing the video in its entirety but that it can't be found liable for emotional distress caused by news coverage on such an issue of public concern.
The network's lawyers also said the lawsuit's claims are barred by the First Amendment, that the violence at the end of the chase couldn't have been foreseen, and that any emotional distress was caused by other factors, such as Romero's conduct.
Rodriguez's attorney argued the lawsuit wasn't a First Amendment case and that the courts have ruled that simply because an event is newsworthy doesn't make every graphic detail subject to the First Amendment.
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