Offended By a Slapp

When Cincinnati TV reporter Hagit Limor started investigating a chain of dental practices two years ago, she had no idea the story would turn into one of the most contentious battles of her career.

Limor interviewed former patients and employees for a report alleging billing improprieties, unsanitary hygiene practices and other problems at the chain owned by a local dentist.

Such investigative reports often incur the wrath of their subjects, who frequently threaten to sue media outlets that print or broadcast them. Limor had vetted her story with the station’s lawyers and was confident of her reporting and of her sources. She was ready for any lawsuit, or so she thought.

The dentist threw the station a curve. Instead of suing the deep pocket, corporate owned television station WCPO, he sued Limor’s sources for libel.

The defendants, some of whom are low income, had limited resources to hire counsel. They used the dental practice because it accepted Medicaid, according to Limor. “I was shocked when he sued his own patients and employees for exercising their constitutional right to speak out,” says Limor.

That approach gave the case all of the hallmarks of a classic strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP suit, according to WCPO’s lawyer, Dick Goehler. “All of the allegations in their complaint were about what [the station] broadcast,” says Goehler. “Why sue the defendants with no wherewithal to defend and no money to pay damages?”

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