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Greg Sattizahn, chief legal counsel for South Dakota’s judicial system, said no appeal dealing with the food disparagement law has come before the state Supreme Court. The judicial system does not track civil cases filed in circuit court by the section of law cited, but he does not remember hearing of any lawsuit based on the disparagement law being filed in circuit court anywhere in South Dakota.

BPI will have to produce “extreme” evidence that the network acted irresponsibly, such as proof that their research used obviously unreliable sources, said University of Wisconsin journalism professor Bob Drechsel, who teaches media law.

Drechsel said he wasn’t surprised to see the lawsuit but questioned whether it would succeed. Most defamation cases end with a settlement or a judge’s order dismissing the case before it goes to trial, he said.

“It’s always an uphill battle for anyone to win a libel suit,” Drechsel said. “They’re going to have to prove that ABC falsely reported information, and they’re going to have to prove that ABC News knew that the stories were false or they had serious doubts about the truth.”

Drechsel said the lawsuit may also be a tool to generate publicity and restore the company’s image.

“Sometimes, you don’t always sue to win,” he said. “You win when you sue.”


Brokaw reported from Pierre, S.D. Associated Press writer Kristi Eaton contributed from North Sioux City, S.D.