Appeals court hears suit over TV station
A Christian network wants to take over the station.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- For more than 30 years, public television station KOCE has dedicated coverage to Orange County in a media market otherwise dominated by the news and glitz of nearby Los Angeles.
But the small station is now battling in court to prevent Daystar, one of the nation's largest Christian networks, from taking over its airwaves.
The conflict began in 2003, when the Coast Community College District decided to sell KOCE-TV to the KOCE Foundation, the station's fund-raising arm, over competing bidder Daystar.
Daystar Television Network sued, claiming its bid should have been selected because the sale was completed under a state law that allows college districts to sell surplus property "for cash" to the highest bidder.
KOCE supporters worry that Daystar would strip all local programming and beam in national shows.
"If we were in the middle of Kansas somewhere, these 3 million people would be their own city with six competing TV stations," said Mel Rogers, KOCE-TV president. "But Los Angeles television doesn't stray down here unless there's some car chase or shooting."
The foundation had offered $32 million -- an $8 million down payment in cash, with the rest spread over 30 years of payments. That amount later dropped to $28 million.
Texas-based Daystar offered $25.1 million, but in cash. One day after the deadline for bids, it raised its offer to $40 million.
A lower court ruled in favor of the college district and the foundation, but that ruling was overturned on appeal.
On Tuesday, a state appeals panel reheard arguments in the case -- a highly unusual move -- after a petition from KOCE, the foundation and the district.
Daystar attorney Richard Lloyd Sherman said the district had a "symbiotic, close relationship" with the KOCE Foundation.
"There's been a corrupt auction that took place to give this station to the foundation," Sherman told the three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal. "Their desire to have a PBS station outweighs everything else. It was never going to fall into the hands of a television evangelist."
A public asset
Ardelle St. George, the foundation's legal counsel, said that district has an obligation to Orange County to keep KOCE-TV as a public asset.
"KOCE offers the only continual coverage of Orange County and it has just been a tremendous asset," she said. "It's really the voice of Orange County."
The appeals court is expected to rule by January.
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