Shock jock on trial for emotional damages

Juneau woman claims show host's comments triggered stress, anxiety

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

A Juneau woman says lewd comments about her on a nationally syndicated radio talk show in 1998, and harassing phone calls and faxes to her home afterward, caused her to suffer post-traumatic stress, and she wants compensation.

The trial in the civil lawsuit of Karen Carpenter against Tom Leykis and Westwood One, the show's production company based in Culver City, Calif., began Wednesday in Juneau Superior Court before a jury of 11 women and three men. Two jurors will be alternates.

Carpenter, 51, also alleges Westwood One intentionally destroyed a tape of the July 24, 1998, broadcast that would have been evidence in the lawsuit. She later received a tape of about two hours of the four-hour show from another source.

Leykis' Web site says people see him as "either a breath of fresh air or a foul defender of the male libido." He's known for segments called Leykis 101, in which he advises men on how to get sex "with minimum effort," and for Flash Fridays, in which he encourages women motorists to bare their breasts.

Carpenter's attorney, Ray Brown, in his opening statement asked the jury to punish Leykis "severely" and compensate Carpenter for what he called two and a half years of hell, including pharmacological treatment and therapy.

Leykis is a bully, Brown told the jury, "who uses his pulpit in a studio, hidden away in Los Angeles, to lash out in the most vicious way to any woman who has the audacity to talk back to him ..."

Leykis worked listeners into a frenzy to contact Carpenter at home, Brown said.

But Leykis' attorney, Leslie Longenbaugh, said the evidence would show Carpenter was faking and exaggerating her symptoms.

 

"This is not a case about bullies or self-esteem. This is about money and revenge," Longenbaugh told the jury.

And Leykis, in the first day of his testimony Wednesday, said his show is comedic entertainment, and he didn't see how words could cause emotional distress.

Longenbaugh said the evidence would show that the lawsuit boils down to whether listeners got Carpenter's fax number from the phone book, where it was listed, and whether Leykis intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

The dispute stems from Carpenter's efforts in July 1998 to get local radio station KJNO-AM to drop the syndicated Tom Leykis Show, aired in the afternoon. She told the radio station in a letter that she had contacted local advertisers about the show's content and that she wouldn't support their businesses. She said it was deplorable that the radio station ran an ad for the Bethel Assembly of God church during the show.

"I intend to do everything in my power to have this show taken off the air as soon as possible. ... The station will be picketed soon," Carpenter wrote July 22.

The station did pull the Leykis show, after hearing from a number of listeners. But on the show's final broadcast in Juneau on July 24, Leykis read Carpenter's letter on the air, mimicking the voice of an old woman, and named her.

He also launched a verbal attack.

"Well, Karen, I have a little something that you could use right now," Leykis said, according to a transcript of the broadcast, and he played a sound effect of a buzzing vibrator.

"Sit on this, you old prune," he said, continuing with sexually explicit suggestions and calling her a moron and a cretin. "You and your little band of nutcases out there, trying to decide what's going to be on the radio in Juneau, Alaska.

"You can't stop this show. Oh, you can stop Juneau, Alaska. But you can't stop me. And I'm on the Internet," Leykis said on the air. "I'm enjoying this," he said, adding that he was sexually aroused.

During the July 24 broadcast, several people from Juneau called in to support the Leykis show and deride Carpenter. One caller gave out Carpenter's home phone number, and Westwood One blocked some of the digits, but the caller did give the entire number of Carpenter's home fax machine. Leykis, in his testimony, said the show's engineer was mistaken in not blocking the fax number.

Brown said Carpenter heard part of the broadcast at her job at a downtown shop, including sexual references about her, before the store owner turned off the radio.

"She reacted in a way of anger at first, shock, humiliation, embarrassment, and went home," Brown said.

At home, in the evening, she received harassing faxes, phone calls and hang-ups on the phone "and began to crumble," Brown said. As time went on, "she went into a classic mode of people developing post-traumatic stress disorder."

Brown said Carpenter was subject to anxiety attacks in the coming months and received counseling and medication.

Longenbaugh said the evidence would show that Carpenter continued to be cheerful at work and didn't visit a therapist for two months after the broadcast and only after a lawyer advised her to.

She said Carpenter didn't use her answering machine to screen phone calls the night of the broadcast and didn't turn off her fax machine. Instead, she had a lawsuit on her mind from the beginning, Longenbaugh told the jury.

"The plaintiff saw her ship coming in and she was going to be on the dock to meet it," Longenbaugh said.

The trial, which may last two weeks, continued today with Leykis still on the stand.

While he is in Juneau, Leykis is broadcasting from a studio at KTOO radio. The show is not broadcast in Juneau.

Alaska Broadcast Communications, licensee of KJNO, which also was named in Carpenter's lawsuit, settled with her in November for $100,000 without admitting the charges.

"We paid them $100,000 to go away," said Alaska Broadcast Communications' attorney, Eric Kueffner. "It's not something we wanted to do. It's a nuisance, but it's the price of doing business."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



CONTACT US

  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-3028
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback

ADVERTISING

SUBSCRIBER SERVICES

SOCIAL NETWORKING