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Here’s yet another reason not to take part in a television reality show: Being called “chicken butt” and “big skank” on live radio goes with the territory, and there’s no legal way to stop it. On Tuesday, California 1st District Court of Appeal Justice Mark Simons discussed both derogatory phrases at length in tossing out a reality show contestant’s defamation suit against a San Francisco radio station. Simons ruled that the talk show hosts on KLLC’s “Sarah and Vinnie” morning show were engaging in protected free speech on an issue of public interest on Feb. 15, 2000, when they jokingly disparaged Jennifer Seelig for unsuccessfully competing on the television show “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” The judge declared Seelig’s suit a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suit aimed at curtailing speech and said KLLC hosts Sarah Clark and Vincent Crackhorn had done nothing wrong — shy of bad taste — in calling Seelig a “chicken butt,” “big skank” and “local loser” on the air. “By having chosen to participate as a contestant in the show,” Simons wrote, “[Seelig] voluntarily subjected herself to inevitable scrutiny and potential ridicule by the public and the media.” Justices Barbara Jones and Lawrence Stevens concurred in Seelig v. Infinity Broadcasting Corp., 02 C.D.O.S. 3262. The ruling reverses San Francisco Superior Court Judge David Garcia, who had denied the radio station’s motion to strike Seelig’s suit as a violation of California Code of Civil Procedure � 425.16, which prohibits SLAPP suits. KLLC’s barb-filled broadcast, which also included caustic comments by on-air producer Uzette Salazar, focused on why anyone would appear on a show in which 50 women competed for a $35,000 wedding ring, a new car and marriage to a complete stranger. Seelig, who worked in sales at San Francisco’s KFRC radio station, refused to participate in the KLLC talk show without being assured in writing that she wouldn’t be humiliated. The talk show hosts wouldn’t agree, and used her absence as ammunition in calling her a local loser, a chicken butt for not appearing to defend her game-show participation, and a big skank supposedly based on comments by Seelig’s ex-husband. Though the ex-husband denied saying anything of the sort, the 1st District still found the phrase “big skank” too vague to be found true or false. It also declared the two other offensive descriptions not actionable because they were “unquestionably” statements of subjective judgment. “We find them indistinguishable in nature from phrases such as ‘creepazoid attorney’ and ‘loser wannabe lawyer,’ which were found to be rhetorical hyperbole in [a 1999 2nd District] case,” Justice Simons wrote. “Although sophomoric and in bad taste, the comments are just the type of ‘name-calling of the “sticks and stones will break my bones” variety’ that the [2nd District] found to be not actionable as a matter of law.” In addition, he wrote, the term “chicken butt” “could not have been meant for the listeners to take literally because its literal interpretation is nonsensical when applied to a human being.” The court also rejected Seelig’s contention that her lawsuit should stand because the talk show hosts ridiculed her for refusing to participate in their radio show, rather than for her participation in the television show. The court called that distinction unpersuasive. “It was, in effect, the radio variant of the ‘empty chair’ scenario, which is occasionally played out live or on television,” Simons wrote. “A participant in an issue of public controversy declines to appear at a forum to discuss the matter and the host sets a place at the table, an empty chair, to emphasize that the absence underlines the flaw in the party’s position.” The court’s ruling awards KLLC attorney fees and costs at trial and on appeal. And it sends an unofficial message that appearing on so-called reality shows could be really embarrassing in the real world.

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