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Shock jock off hook in stress case

Missing tape will cost company

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2002

Talk-show host Tom Leykis said a Juneau jury's verdict in his favor Tuesday afternoon was a victory for free speech. But one of the actions by the show's production company could be costly.

The jury cleared Leykis of the claims made against him by local resident Karen Carpenter, who said comments about her on his nationally syndicated radio show caused her severe emotional distress and violated her privacy.

"As far as I see, this is a victory for the First Amendment and against small-town ambulance chasers across America," Leykis said after the verdict.

"My nipples are hard," he added, an apparent reference to one of his taunts of Carpenter on the 1998 broadcast, which she testified particularly haunted her.

But the jury, which rendered its decision at 4:30 p.m. in Juneau Superior Court after deliberating for 1 1/2 days, did find Westwood One, the show's Los Angeles-area production company, at fault for intentionally destroying or concealing a tape of the disputed July 24, 1998, broadcast that was wanted as evidence.

The jury is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday to deliberate on punitive damages for that claim, which is called spoliation of evidence. A juror is out of town today.

Jurors on Thursday may hear arguments from the parties' lawyers about the amount of punitive damages, or the parties could agree on damages before then, the attorneys said.

The jury awarded Carpenter no money for emotional loss, such as pain and suffering - she had asked for nearly $100,000 - and just $5,042 of the claimed $16,500 for lost income and medical expenses.

The jury, in answer to one of a long series of written questions from Judge Patricia Collins, which were turned in with its verdict, said it agreed with the defendants' claim that Carpenter had not made reasonable efforts to mitigate her losses.

The jury also said none of the responsibility for Carpenter's losses rests with Alaska Broadcast Communications, which holds the federal broadcasting license for local station KJNO-AM. The station had faxed to Leykis a critical letter from Carpenter, adding a hand-written notation to "have fun." The jury had the option of assigning some of the compensation or punitive damages to Alaska Broadcast and its general manager.

The jury continues to be under a directive by Judge Collins not to talk about the case with non-jurors. That restriction will be lifted once the jury has set punitive damages.

Leykis was smiling after the verdict. He called the lawsuit a personal vendetta by Carpenter and said his comments about her on the air, which included ridicule and other sexual taunts, were fair.

"The individual attempted to interfere with my business, went to my advertisers and got my show off the air in Juneau," Leykis said.

"All I did was give my opinion in an entertaining manner ... for the intended audience, which is young men," he said.

One of Carpenter's attorneys, Ray Brown, said he would not comment on the case until the jury had completed its deliberations on punitive damages.

The jurors rendered a verdict in favor of Leykis and Westwood One on the claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy through disclosure of private facts.

The judge severely limited what speech in the broadcast the jury could consider in deciding those claims: incitements to immediate violence and disclosure of outrageous private information.

But the jury did find that Westwood One had intentionally destroyed or concealed the tape of the broadcast, a copy of which Carpenter's attorney had asked for in December 1998.

Carpenter had brought that claim against the company only, not Leykis personally. And the jury said all the responsibility for destroying evidence rested with Westwood One. But in an apparent inconsistent verdict, the jury said it would award punitive damages against Leykis and Westwood One.

Judge Collins and the parties' attorneys discussed that on Tuesday afternoon, out of presence of the jury. And the judge and lawyers were scheduled to meet today at 4:30 p.m. to talk about that issue and the procedure for the jury's deliberations on setting punitive damages.

It's possible the jury was taking into account that the wording of the claim against Westwood One included its employees and agents, and that the jury did want to specifically punish Leykis, Carpenter's attorneys said.

But Judge Collins said Leykis couldn't be subject to damages for destroying evidence.

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



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