WTVT Anchor Kelly Ring: A court battle involving Fox 13 and two former employees is over tonight. Just a short time ago a jury in Tampa awarded former Fox 13 anchor Jane Akre over $400,000 in damages.
Fox 13 management fired Akre back in 1997 and the jury found the station violated the states whistleblower law when they did it. Akre was working on an investigative reporter targeting the Monsanto chemical company at the time. She said she was fired because she refused to lie in that report and threatened to tell the FCC about it.
Steve Wilson, Akre’s husband was also part of the lawsuit but the jury found Fox 13 did nothing wrong when he was fired that same year.
Transcript As Broadcast
WTVT Anchor Bill Ratliffe: A five-week-long trial involving WTVT and two former news employees isover tonight.
WTVT Anchor Kelly Ring: The Hillsborough County jury took nearly six hours to return the verdict in the case. Jane Akre and Steve Wilson sued Fox 13 saying the station fired them in violation of Florida’s whistleblower law. The married couple says they were fired for refusing to lie in stories about artificial bovine growth hormone. WTVT’s management denies the allegations and says the couple was fired legally in accordance with their employment contracts. Independent reporter Julie Prince has been covering this case and has more on the jury’s verdict.
[The following is the transcript of Reporter Julie Prince’s report on the verdict.]
Judge Ralph Steinberg: Has the jury reach a verdict?
Jury Forman John Tagler: Yes we have…
Judge Ralph Steinberg: or verdicts?
Jury Foreman: Yes we have, Judge.
Reporter Julie Prince: Plaintiffs Jane Akre and Steve Wilson held hands as the court clerk read the jury’s unanimous verdict.
Court Clerk: No. Number two…
Reporter Prince: The jury decided that WTVT did not violate Florida’s so-called whistleblower law when the station fired Steve Wilson. However, the jury found in favor of part of Jane Akre’s claim. The jury agreed with Akre that WTVT fired her for a threat she made to the station.
According to court testimony, Akre told WTVT management she’d notify the Federal Communications Commission of the airing of an invest report which she felt was untrue and against an FCC policy banning the intentional falsification of the news. The jury awarded Akre a total of $425,000 in damages.
Co-plaintiff Jane Akre: You know it was never was about money. I mean I’m very pleased because now we can pay our lawyers.
Reporter Prince: Fox 13 representatives say the jury through its verdict clearly stated that the station did not tell A and W to falsify and distort thenews through their BGH story. They also say the one part of Akre’s claim the jury found against WTVT doesn’t deal with news distortion at all.
Fox L-A Attorney Theodore Russell: That is a separate issue having to do with threats to go to the FCC. That does not have to do with distortion of the news. It does not have to do with falsification of the news.
Reporter Prince: However plaintiff Steve Wilson interprets the jury’s verdict on Akre’s claim differently.
Co-plaintiff Steve Wilson: They’re saying that this company knew what it was doing, that this company knew it was slanting and distorting the news and when she threatened to go to the government and to blow the whistle on that, they fired her.
Reporter Prince: Meanwhile, the head of Fox 13’s news department feels his newsroom’s reputation has been restored.
WTVT News V-P Phillip Metlin: Our name has been besmirched across the country and across the internet and I think today is a wonderful day for Fox 13 because I think we are completely vindicated on the finding of this jury that we do not distort news, we do not lie about the news, we do not slant the news, we are professionals.
Reporter Prince: The plaintiffs seemed relieved this trial is over
Co-plaintiff Jane Akre: You know, I’m going to try and get a life back, that’s what I’m going to do right now. I’m going to sort of chill out for a while and not be near attorneys or courtrooms or anything else because it’s been three years of hell.
Reporter Prince: Julie Prince for Fox 13 news.
WTVT Anchor Kelly Ring: Jane Akre’s attorneys are undecided about appealing the first part of her claim denied by the jury. SW says he will not appeal the jury’s verdict in his case. Fox 13’s attorneys say they will appeal the damages awarded to Akre.