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Supreme court rejects suit by television evangelist Robert Tilton

February 18, 1997 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Television evangelist Robert Tilton, who says an ABC News program wrongly portrayed him as a callous, insensitive fraud, failed today in a Supreme Court bid to revive his libel lawsuit.

The justices, without comment, left intact rulings that threw out Tilton’s lawsuit over a 1991 PrimeTime Live report about his television ministry.

Tilton was one of the country’s most popular television evangelists through the 1980s while leading the Word of Faith Outreach Center Church near Dallas.

The PrimeTime Live report quoted persons as saying Tilton accepted some followers’ donations and then trashed their prayer requests. The report also focused on Tilton’s lifestyle _ including his multimillion-dollar homes and generous salary.

After the program was aired, some of Tilton’s followers sued him for alleged fraud. Tilton later sued four lawyers and two members of a church-monitoring group of conspiring to destroy his church. That lawsuit, like his libel case, was dismissed before reaching a jury trial.

Tilton sued ABC News and its corporate parents in federal court in Tulsa, Okla., in 1992. By that time, PrimeTime Live had rebroadcast its report on him, with some updated material.

A federal judge threw out the libel lawsuit after a five-day evidentiary hearing, ruling that Tilton had not offered proof that the report was false. The judge also refused to enjoin ABC News from ever rebroadcasting the report.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling last August.

Tilton’s Supreme Court appeal urged the justices to reverse the lower courts as a reminder that ``all citizens of this nation have a constitutional right to a jury trial on fact issues.″

The appeal added: ``The district court and the court of appeals must be reminded that this court has found that speech may be enjoined if adjudicated false.″

The case is Tilton vs. Capital Cities, 96-817.