Former Prosecutor Awarded Record $58 Million in Libel Suit Against TV Station
WACO, Texas (AP) _ A jury Friday ordered a television station and a reporter to pay a record $58 million to a former prosecutor, saying they defamed him in a 1985 series.
″God gave us the victory,″ said Vic Feazell, the former McLennan County district attorney.
Feazell, 39, said the 11-part series by Dallas television station WFAA and reporter Charles Duncan ruined his reputation and led to an FBI investigation.
The series accused him of taking payoffs in exchange for dismissing drunken driving cases. Feazell contended in a lawsuit the series was malicious and filled with inaccuracies and defamatory statements.
Feazell was indicted in 1986 on federal racketeering charges and acquitted in June 1987. He resigned in September 1988 to go into private practice in Waco.
Mike McCarthy, senior vice president and general counsel of A.H. Belo Corp., which owns WFAA, said the verdict will be challenged.
″The company believes there is absolutely no factual basis to support this jury verdict, which involves a public official,″ McCarthy said.
Attorneys for Belo contended that Duncan’s series was fair comment on the performance of a public official.
Neither Duncan, who has left WFAA, nor his attorneys would comment on the outcome.
The libel award exceeds the $34 million a jury ordered The Philadelphia Inquirer to pay in May 1990 over a 1973 story that criticized a lawyer’s handling of a homicide case when he was an assistant district attorney.
Feazell has contended for years that state and federal officials harassed him after he criticized law enforcement officials who investigated the confessions of a drifter, Henry Lee Lucas, who admitted to hundreds of murders, then recanted.
Belo attorneys said Duncan started his series after the federal investigation was under way.
Feazell’s 1986 lawsuit named Duncan, Belo Broadcasting Corp. and A.H. Belo Corp. as defendants.
A.H. Belo was dismissed from the lawsuit last month after attorneys for WFAA proved that Duncan never worked for the parent company.