E-mails from Metro officials sought in lawsuit
December 22, 2001
A motorcycle mechanic and the Metro government are scrapping in court over access to e-mails between Mayor Bill Purcell's office and the Police Department.
Mechanic Brad Lewis hopes the e-mails will help him in his defamation lawsuit against WTVF-Channel 5, over a news story suggesting that his then-brother-in-law, former Police Maj. Carl Dollarhide, kept Lewis from being arrested when he was stopped in a police roadblock in 1998.
Metro has turned over four e-mails between Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips and police officials about the time of the WTVF broadcast in August 2000, but Lewis' attorney, Robert DeLaney, says he thinks there must be more.
So he issued a subpoena for Metro computer personnel to produce records of all e-mail servers used by the Police Department and the mayor's office between February 2000 and March 2001.
DeLaney says he wants a computer expert of his own to compile a directory of both agencies' e-mail messages so that he can decide if he needs to press in court for the texts of more messages — whether between the mayor's office and the Police Department or between those agencies and WTVF.
Metro attorneys say they're only trying to follow the law that governs the release of public records — whether on paper or electronic — while maintaining the integrity of the city's computer system.
Metro Law Director Karl Dean said that DeLaney ''wants to put some software on Metro exchange servers'' so that he can create his own log of e-mail activity.
''Our concern with that is twofold,'' Dean said. ''One is technical, that we don't want to allow any untested or uncertified software to be placed on our exchange servers. Also, we have an obligation to review any information that would be turned over from the Police Department for attorney-client privilege and to see if it involves an ongoing criminal investigation or public safety.''
DeLaney said yesterday that he is not seeking direct access to the Metro computer system.
''I'm proposing that my computer guy sit in a room with their computer guy and that they create a directory, showing to whom, from whom, subject and date.''
In one e-mail exchange provided to DeLaney, Metro Police Chief Emmett Turner told Phillips, ''I am requesting to be out of the office on Friday July 14, 2000.''
Phillips responded, ''OK. What is Phil Williams doing tonight on Channel 5? Major Dollarhide?''
Turner took away Dollarhide's gun and badge on Aug. 9, 2000, and Dollarhide, who had commanded the Patrol Division since 1989, retired at the end of August.
Dollarhide filed a separate defamation lawsuit against WTVF and Williams last summer, charging that a series of news reports left the false impression that he violated criminal laws on several occasions.
The news reports focused on Dollarhide's ties with Brad Lewis' father, Jimmy Lewis, a wealthy businessman who was convicted in 1990 of running an illegal video-poker gambling operation, and on whether Dollarhide told officers to ''lay off'' certain businesses and people he knew.
Dollarhide, 60, noted in his lawsuit against WTVF that the investigation that Turner cited as grounds for ''disempowering'' him Aug. 9 has not resulted in any ''findings of wrongdoing or prosecutable criminal offenses by anyone.''
Dollarhide is one of several senior police officials who have retired since Purcell was elected mayor in 1999.
Brad Lewis, 28, has alleged that WTVF and Williams unfairly damaged his reputation by including him in an investigative series about purported corruption in the Metro Police Department.
Lawyers for WTVF have said that the station stands behind its stories about Dollarhide and Brad Lewis. Metro attorneys filed a motion Dec. 7 asking a judge to quash the records subpoena that DeLaney had issued for Metro computer personnel to bring records to a deposition scheduled last Monday.
The Metro computer personnel did not appear for the deposition, even though there has not been a hearing on the motion to quash the subpoena.
DeLaney says that put Metro in contempt of court.
DeLaney contends Williams falsely reported Dollarhide interceded for Lewis when patrol officers found a sawed-off shotgun, paper bags full of cash and ''what appeared to be betting slips'' in Lewis' pickup truck Dec. 27, 1998.
DeLaney said in the lawsuit he filed for Lewis that the story was not true and that WTVF ran it without sufficiently checking into the ''biases'' of the anonymous sources Williams relied on.
DeLaney also said that the WTVF report portrayed Lewis, ''a private individual, ... in a false light.'' The Tennessee courts have only recently recognized ''false light'' as a viable legal theory in suits alleging invasion of privacy.
Circuit Judge Royce Taylor of Murfreesboro has been assigned to handle Lewis' lawsuit against WTVF.
Dollarhide's lawyer, Charles Ray, has asked that his and Lewis' lawsuits against the television station be tried together.
Kirk Loggins covers courts for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 255-6186.
By KIRK LOGGINS. Copyright © 2001 The Tennessean A Gannett Co. Inc.