Drug court judge challenges reporting behind “Very Tough Love”

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A Georgia judge whose sentencing practices were scrutinized in “Very Tough Love,” a recent edition of This American Life, has threatened to sue host Ira Glass and his public radio program for libel.

The March 25 episode examined the drug court administered by Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams for Georgia’s Glynn, Camden and Wayne counties through the stories of three offenders who participated in the rehabilitation program, including a young woman who attempted suicide after Williams sentenced her to indefinite detention in solitary confinement. Glass contrasted the punitive sanctions that Williams imposed with national guidelines for drug court programs, concluding that the judge’s approach is unduly harsh.

But a lawyer representing Williams has challenged the facts behind Glass’s reporting, in both a 14-page letter threatening a lawsuit and a press release describing the story as malicious and Glass as an “admitted character assassin.”

“I do not admit to being a character assassin,” Glass wrote in response to Mercer University Law School Professor David Oedel, Williams’ attorney. “Also: I am not a character assassin….My story was about how this particular drug court, run by Judge Williams, is not run like other drug courts. Nothing in Judge Williams’ and Mr. Oedel’s press release and letter contradicts that.”

TAL posted a clarification and correction to the original story, but is standing resolutely behind its reporting, armed with its own set of attorneys.

“Our clients’ broadcast and related web publication are the product of intensive investigative journalism and, consistent with Mr. Glass’s reputation, represent fair, accurate and unbiased reporting,” wrote Michael Conway of Foley & Lardner, the Chicago-based firm representing Glass. “[Y]ou already well know that robust speech and communications about the conduct of governmental institutions and officials is the core value protected by the . . . First Amendment.”

Additional coverage by ABA Journal; ATLaw, covering law issues in Georgia; Atlanta Creative Loafing; and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

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