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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

Slander suit against radio's Denny Schaffer is settled

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A slander lawsuit filed against radio personality Denny Schaffer for statements he broadcast nearly five years ago about a purported relationship between Blade staff writer Sandra Svoboda and John Robinson Block, the newspaper's publisher and editor-in-chief, has been settled.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Attorneys for Ms. Svoboda and Mr. Schaffer, and his employer, Clear Channel Communications Inc., said yesterday that an agreement was reached in the lawsuit that was filed in January, 2000 in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Ms. Svoboda filed a slander lawsuit against Mr. Schaffer for statements he made on the air at various times in October, 1999, while a member of the former Breakfast Club show on WVKS-FM, a Clear Channel station.

Fred LeFebvre and Tricia Tischler, who were members of the radio program, were added as defendants in an amended lawsuit filed in October, 2000. They were accused of telling Mr. Schaffer that Ms. Svoboda was having a sexual relationship with Mr. Block. She denied that any such relationship existed.

Last week, Mr. Schaffer apologized to Ms. Svoboda on the air during his afternoon talk show on WSPD-AM, which also is owned by Clear Channel Communications.

Frederick Gittes, a Columbus attorney who represents Ms. Svoboda, said he could not provide details of the settlement, including any financial payments, conditions, or whether Mr. Schaffer's apology was part of the agreement.

"I really can't comment at all on the terms of the settlement other than to say that the case has been mutually resolved to the satisfaction of both parties," Mr. Gittes said.

Attorney Thomas Pletz, who represents the defendants, confirmed that the lawsuit was settled.

"I join in [Mr. Gittes'] statement," said Mr. Pletz, of the Toledo law firm Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick. He also refused to provide details or conditions reached in the agreement.

However, Toledo attorney Richard Kerger, a partner in the law firm of Kerger & Kerger, said if the case had gone to trial, based on the allegations raised in the complaint, Ms. Svoboda likely would have received a seven-figure jury award.

"If the defendants used the wrong defense strategy and the plaintiff's attorneys exercised the right presentation to a group of sympathetic jurors, I think that an award could have been around a $1 million, and I think it would be upheld on appeal," Mr. Kerger said.

Mr. Gittes and Mr. Pletz said a dismissal notice would be filed next week with Judge William Skow, possibly as early as Monday.

Both Ms. Svoboda and Mr. Schaffer would only confirm that the lawsuit had been settled. They would not elaborate on details of the agreement.

"I cannot comment on any terms of the agreement. I can only say that I believe that all parties involved are satisfied with the terms of the agreement," Ms. Svoboda said.

The on-air apology was made three days after Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals accepted a motion from Mr. Schaffer to voluntarily dismiss an appeal of a contempt order placed on him in October by Judge Skow.

Mr. Schaffer was found in contempt and ordered to pay $5,954 toward Ms. Svoboda's legal fees after he failed to tell Judge Skow his source of information about comments he made on the air about Mr. Block.

In an Oct. 30 hearing, Mr. Schaffer first repeated a claim he made in a written response that he could not recall the name of the alleged source, who he said is a Blade employee. He later acknowledged that he knew the name, but asked the judge if he could divulge it in chambers.

Mr. Schaffer eventually complied with Judge Skow's order and provided the names of The Blade employee and the friend who put him in contact with the employee. The employee and friend later testified in depositions that they didn't provide the information to Mr. Schaffer.

The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear Ms. Tischler's appeal on her claim that she was entitled to reporter's shield-law protection when she refused to divulge the source for information that formed the basis for comments made on the Breakfast Club show about Mr. Block.

The appeals court upheld a ruling by Judge Skow that Ms. Tischler, who was the radio station's news director, was not entitled to protection under a state law that shields reporters from divulging their sources. Judge Skow said Ms. Tischler was not acting as a news director at the time she talked with her source.

Even though the case was settled, Mr. Pletz said his client would pursue the appeal. "I am glad the decision will be reviewed. I think it is an important issue," he said.

Ms. Tischler, who no longer works at the radio station, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. LeFebvre testified in his deposition that another radio station employee was his source for a statement that Ms. Svoboda and Mr. Block were purportedly dating. In his deposition, the employee testified that he had not said it.

Andy Stuart, regional manager for Clear Channel, and Mr. LeFebvre did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-724-6009.



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