SANTA ANA – For more than 30 years, public television station KOCE has been heralded for its lineup of award-winning news programs that remind viewers there’s more to Orange County than sun-drenched beaches. Now, however, the county’s only local television station is fighting in court to prevent a televangelist network from taking over its airwaves. The case, under review by a state appeals court, pits Daystar, one of the nation’s largest Christian television networks, against a small but popular public station that remains dedicated to Orange County’s 3 million residents in a media market dominated by the high-amplitude news and Hollywood glitz of nearby Los Angeles. “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.” Daystar attorney Richard Lloyd Sherman said the district blatantly violated the state’s education code to prevent the station from falling into the hands of a televangelist network and 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.” Those who favor the PBS station, however, say they had discretion to choose the highest “responsible” bidder and that was the KOCE Foundation. The district had an obligation to Orange County to keep KOCE-TV as a public asset, Ardelle St. George, the foundation’s legal counsel, said outside court. “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.” Huntington Beach-based KOCE’s major shows include the news program “Real Orange,” which last year won the station’s 25th Los Angeles-area Emmy Award, and “Inside OC,” which presents interviews and discussions. KOCE supporters worry that Daystar would strip all local programming and beam in national shows that don’t reflect the county’s needs. The station would also have to refund $22 million in grants from the national Public Broadcasting Service if it became privately owned, attorneys said. Daystar, which owns 40 television stations nationwide and claims a potential U.S. audience of 128 million people, would be required under the current terms to keep KOCE-TV’s educational courses for school children, teacher training and nontraditional college students. “Daystar has a history of buying local stations and then they no longer carry local news,” said Milford Dahl, an attorney for the college district. “They give it away to the national broadcasters in return for the right to broadcast their national stuff.” The appeals court is expected to rule by January. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals The conflict began in 2003, when the Coast Community College District decided to sell the 33-year-old KOCE-TV to get rid of the $2 million annual carrying cost associated with the station and generate some cash for the district. The district includes three junior colleges in Orange County and serves more than 60,000 full- and part-time students, some of whom study by way of courses aired on KOCE-TV for 40 hours a week. After a bidding process, the district sold the station to the KOCE Foundation, the station’s fundraising arm, for $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. But Texas-based Daystar sued a short time later, saying the district should have selected its bid of $25 million because the sale was completed under a state law that allows college districts to sell surplus property “for cash” to the highest bidder. The foundation’s bid, it argues, included only $8 million in cash. Daystar increased its bid to $40 million the day after bidding closed. A lower court ruled in favor of the college district and the foundation, but that ruling was overturned on appeal. On Tuesday, the Santa Ana-based appellate panel reheard arguments in the case – a highly unusual move – after agreeing to review its decision after a petition from KOCE, the foundation and the district.