Copyright Times Publishing Co. Aug 19, 2004
Two investigative reporters who accused their bosses in a
lawsuit of distorting their story about growth hormones in
milk won't have to pay nearly $2-million in attorneys' fees to
a local Fox affiliate, a judge ruled Wednesday.
After a two-hour hearing, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Vivian
Maye ruled that Jane Akre and Steve Wilson filed their 1998
lawsuit against WTVT-Ch. 13 in good faith. As the case
proceeded through the court system, judges agreed it had
enough merit to go to trial, Maye said. And a jury ruled, at
least in part, in Akre's favor, even though that decision was
later overturned by an appeals court, Maye noted.
The station had asked for nearly $2-million in attorneys'
fees and costs. Maye will rule later on whether to grant Fox's
request for about $37,000 in court costs.
The judge did grant the station $18,412 for costs related
to the appeal and reserved ruling on another $43,747 in other
appeals costs. Still, the judge's decision Wednesday largely
let Akre and Wilson off the hook.
"Yes, it's nice not to have nearly $2-million in fees
hanging over us anymore," Akre said after the hearing.
The station could appeal the ruling.
Akre and Wilson, who are married, brought national
credentials to WTVT-Ch. 13 when they were hired in 1996. Each
had more than 20 years of experience - Wilson was an
Emmy-winning alumnus of Inside Edition, and Akre spent time at
The conflict began in 1997 while the pair worked on a story
about bovine growth hormone, or BGH, a controversial substance
manufactured by the Monsanto Corp.
Wilson and Akre sued the station after they were released
early from their contracts in 1997. They claimed station
management and lawyers buckled to pressure from Monsanto Corp.
to distort their story. The station did not air the couple's
Fox has long maintained that it never asked Wilson and Akre
to lie in their story. The station says the two refused to be
objective and were fired for insubordination.
In August 2000, a jury awarded Akre $425,000, saying the
station retaliated against her for threatening to blow the
whistle on a false or distorted news report. The same jury
decided the station had not wronged Wilson.
The station appealed the $425,000 award. Florida's Second
District Court of Appeal eventually overturned the decision,
saying Akre failed to show the station violated any state
The appeals court said Akre's threat to report the
station's actions to the Federal Communications Commission
didn't deserve protection under the state whistle blower
The station used that ruling to go after the nearly
$2-million in fees. In some cases, the winning party can
collect their attorneys' fees and court costs from the other
Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contacts for further information:
Vivian, Akre, Jane, Wilson, Steve
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