Most of WJZ suit dismissed

November 29, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

A city circuit court judge has dismissed seven of eight charges in a defamation lawsuit filed last year by March Funeral Homes West Inc., against WJZ-TV.

The suit arose from a pair of stories broadcast by CBS-owned WJZ (Channel 13) in October 1999 about a grieving woman's fears that her late husband's casket had been improperly handled at the gravesite. The funeral home, at the time a significant advertiser on the station, claimed the stories by reporters Suzanne Collins and Alex Demetrick blamed March for work done by a veterans cemetery staff.

But in a Nov. 21 opinion, Judge John Carroll Byrnes found that the reporting was truthful. "The clear intent was to report a widow's fear and then its happy, even if awkwardly reached, ending," he wrote, adopting the defense's argument that the WJZ stories were "constructed around questions, not conclusions."

However, the judge left standing one count which stems from an allegation that the station illegally recorded company executive Eric March's comments to the widow, Enid Costley, at the gravesite. It is against Maryland law to tape conversations without the participants' consent. The station claims that March was aware there was a cameraman nearby.

WJZ's lawyer, Lee Levine, said the judge's finding was a victory for the station. "It essentially knocks the guts out of the case," Levine said yesterday. March's attorney, Roy L. Mason, could not immediately be reached for comment.

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