Amy Jacobson appeals case against CBS to Illinois Supreme Court
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Former WMAQ-Channel 5 reporter Amy Jacobson is appealing her case against CBS Broadcasting Inc. to the Illinois Supreme Court after a state appeals court ruled against her, Jacobson’s attorney said Tuesday.
Jacobson was famously fired by WMAQ in July 2007 after a WBBM-Channel 2 news crew secretly filmed her clad in a bikini with her two children in tow by the pool at the Plainfield home of Craig Stebic, whose wife, Lisa Stebic, had been missing at the time for more than two months.
Jacobson, who said she had been invited to Stebic’s home unexpectedly on her day off and hoped to gather information about the ongoing story, later sued. She then appealed after a lower court ruled in favor of CBS. The appellate court sided with the lower court this fall, agreeing that Jacobson was a “limited purpose” public figure and faced a higher legal burden in her lawsuit against CBS.
That is the central issue in her appeal to the state Supreme Court, Jacobson attorney Kathleen Zellner said.
The appellate court noted Jacobson’s professional and personal life had previously been covered in the local news media, and it said she “eagerly capitalized” on her fame by appearing as a featured guest at local fund-raising events, appearing on parade floats and headlining events such as “Dancing with Chicago Celebrities.”
It also said Jacobson described herself as the “owner” of the Lisa Stebic story and engaged in “tireless efforts” to find out what happened to the missing woman, even participating in a search for Lisa Stebic on her day off and bringing her children to a pancake-breakfast benefit held by Lisa Stebic’s relatives.
The court said the Stebic case was a “matter of public controversy.” And it agreed Jacobson was a limited public figure not only because Jacobson inserted herself “into a prominent position” in that controversy, but because the WBBM video “was germane to the controversy.”
While it said some people may have viewed the footage — featuring Jacobson in a swimsuit and a towel and Craig Stebic putting his shirt on — in a sexual manner, the court also noted Jacobson’s children are depicted near their mother. It said the video could simply convey the “gist of the report,” which was that Jacobson was swimming at Craig Stebic’s pool.
But Jacobson disputes her status as a limited public figure. She said the CBS video “purports that Jacobson was engaged in a sexual relationship with Stebic and that she used sex and seduction to do her job.”
Jacobson said she “worked diligently on all the stories to which she was assigned” and said the only public action she took “was doing on-air reports and interviews, the same acts taken by other reporters.”
She argued the relevant “public controversy” was not the disappearance of Lisa Stebic but the debate over journalistic ethics that followed reports about Jacobson’s presence at the Stebic home. Therefore, she said she “could not thrust herself to the forefront of a controversy” that did not yet exist.
She filed her latest appeal Oct. 31.
Craig Stebic, who was named a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance, was never criminally charged. His wife, Lisa Stebic, has never been found.