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Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit, orders local dealership to pay KRIS 6 News $50K

Posted: 10:42 AM, Feb 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-17 11:42:05-05

A local judge has dismissed a lawsuit against KRIS 6 News by a car dealer who accused the news station of inaccurate reporting.

KRIS 6 News aired a series of investigative reports beginning in August about claims that Corpus Christi Subaru sold cars and failed to transfer the titles as required by state law. Dealership owner Ronald Lillard filed a lawsuit in September claiming the stories were false and misleading.

Nueces County State District Judge Nanette Hasatte ruled Thursday that the lawsuit had no merit, and ordered Lillard to pay the station for its attorney fees and expenses related to the lawsuit. The judge also ordered Lillard, who does business in Texas as Empyrean Auto Group, to pay KRIS 6 News an additional $50,000 in sanctions to deter a future lawsuit. Neither Lillard nor his attorney appeared in court for the judge’s ruling.

Investigative reporter Jessica Savage led the station’s series of reports, which began with a story about dozens of customer complaints against Corpus Christi Subaru and Alpha Romeo Fiat of Corpus Christi – both owned by Lillard.

Customers complained they bought a car and the dealership failed to transfer the title within 30 days – leaving some driving for months on temporary paper license plates. One customer said she quit making payments after she drove the car for more than six months without permanent license plates. The dealership later repossessed her car. The investigative reports detailed by KRIS 6 News also showed Lillard used an unlicensed tow truck to repossess cars for the dealership.

The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has since expanded its investigation into both dealerships. About 450 customers could be affected by the title troubles, according to information from Adam Shaivitz, public information officer for Texas DMV. Lillard has since sold the local Subaru dealership. During a previous interview, he said he had plans to sell the Fiat dealership and relocate his business to the Houston area. The fiat franchise is still owned by Lillard, according to Texas DMV records.