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Judge orders $250,000+ fee award for KTRK Houston in Anti-SLAPP case

 - Law stems from TAB legislative effort

A Harris County judge awarded KTRK-TV Houston more than $250,000 in attorneys’ fees after the station won an anti-SLAPP appeal against the plaintiff in the case, Theaola Robinson, founder of Benji’s Special Education Academy, a Houston area charter school.

Attorneys Laura Prather and Catherine Robb of TAB Associate Member law firm Haynes and Boone represented KTRK-TV in the case.

Prather was the lead author and negotiator of the Texas Citizens Participation Act, the state’s anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation law (anti-SLAPP), on behalf of TAB, the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in the 2011 legislative session.

Plaintiffs file anti-SLAPP lawsuits, typically a frivolous defamation claim of some kind, as a means of silencing critical speech by making it too expensive to defend in court.

In recent years media outlets have become prime targets for such suits, even when reporting on the critical speech of others.

“This matter is a prime example of why the anti-SLAPP statute was created – to protect the freedom of speech,” said Prather.

“We are thrilled to have persevered each time the plaintiff sued and the final ruling by the judge reiterates that meritless lawsuits filed out of retaliation for one exercising their constitutional rights will no longer be permitted in Texas.”

Robinson filed a suit against KTRK, claiming a 2010 broadcast news report and online articles about a state agency’s closure of her charter school for mismanagement and accounting irregularities were defamatory.

She also contended that public comments posted on KTRK’s website established the defamatory nature of the broadcasts.

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s earlier denial of the station’s anti-SLAPP motion, and remanded for fees, after finding that the station had not accused Robinson of a crime, that the broadcasts were true, and that the public comments could not support Robinson’s libel per se claim.

After the appellate court ruling, the plaintiff filed more than half a dozen pleadings with the appellate and Texas Supreme Court in an attempt to have them overturn the ruling and to challenge the constitutionality of the anti-SLAPP statute. 

All of Robinson’s attempts failed and all of her claims were dismissed by the trial court when it issued the $250,000 fee award with additional prospective fee awards for further appeals.

Questions?  Contact Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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