The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion approved after second hearing, damages and cost assessed
Updated Wednesday January 7, 2015 4:22pm to define SLAPP
Council Member Don Zimmerman’s defamation lawsuit against The Austin Bulldog was dismissed today by Judge Amy Clark Meachum of the 201st District Court, based on approval of The Austin Bulldog’s anti-SLAPP motion (to dismiss a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation).
Zimmerman filed the lawsuit October 15, 2014, during his election campaign, in response to The Austin Bulldog’s article published October 9, 2014. The article was based on court records that say the court ordered he “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child. The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history or pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (his daughter Marina Zimmerman).” On June 16, 2014, Zimmerman signed and approved an Agreed Order stating the “Court finds that the material allegations in the petition are true.”
Judge Meachum awarded defendant Austin Investigative Reporting Project (dba The Austin Bulldog) $8,400 in attorney’s fees for the work of Peter D. Kennedy of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody PC, who represented the Bulldog, plus court costs and other expenses of $579, and a sanction of $1,000.
The ruling followed two hearings, held December 18 and January 5, concerning The Austin Bulldog’s motion to dismiss Zimmerman’s lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, enacted in 2011 “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorius lawsuits for demonstrable injury.”
Section 27.009 of the Act states if the court orders dismissal the court “shall award” court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, other expenses, and “sanctions against the party who brought the legal action as the court determines sufficient to deter the party … from bringing similar actions described in this chapter.”
This ruling reinforces the right to publish a fair, true and impartial account of a judicial proceeding, as provided for in Section 73.002 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. Such reporting is privileged and is not a ground for a libel action.
Zimmerman has 30 days to file an appeal after the court order based on the ruling is filed of record with the district clerk.
The Austin Bulldog will publish a comprehensive follow-up story on this matter as soon as possible.
Link: Judge Amy Clark Meachum’s ruling of January 7, 2015 (to be posted after a technical problem is fixed)