This story was updated at 9:46am October 19, 2022, to correct the name of the organization in which Tiffanie Harrison is a general partner.
Demand for correction coincides with Zimmerman’s campaign against an incumbent member of Round Rock ISD’s board of trustees
A lawyer representing Don Zimmerman, both individually and on behalf of Texans for Zimmerman, has once again threatened legal action against The Austin Bulldog.
Stephen Casey on October 11th emailed a “correction demand” for an article about Zimmerman, “Candidate lost custody over abuse,” published October 9, 2014.
The story at issue was published when Zimmerman was a candidate for Austin City Council.
Casey’s letter warns, “Failure to act will subject you to legal action according to the appropriate law” and concludes “Have a blessed day.”
Casey is the same lawyer who in 2014 sued the Austin Investigative Reporting Project, dba The Austin Bulldog, for defamation on behalf of Zimmerman as a result of that article. He was also serving as Zimmerman’s campaign treasurer at the time.
Casey’s letter threatening litigation contains a telling clue as to why Zimmerman is suddenly concerned about the the Bulldog’s original story published eight years ago: “Mr. Zimmerman, after being confronted with the false allegation on your blog, makes demand for correction.”
This story will explain the significance of the legal documents involved in our original reporting and court records subsequently filed. None of these records undo the accuracy of our story published in 2014.
Wants later court order posted with original article
Along with his recent letter demanding correction, Casey provided a copy of an Agreed Nunc Pro Tunc Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship. (Nunc pro tunc is a Latin term signifying that a court order applies retroactively to a ruling made at an earlier date.)
The order dated January 20, 2017, and signed by District Judge Scott Jenkins, updated an Agreed Order to Modify Parent-Child Relationship dated June 16, 2014. The earlier order included this statement: “The Court finds that the material allegations in the petition to modify are true and that the requested modification is in the best interest of the child.” The 2017 Agreed Nunc Pro Tunc Order omits the 12 words italicized in the preceding sentence.
Casey’s letter states, “Demand is hereby made for you to link the corrected order on your blog….” The 2017 Order is now linked with other pertinent documents underneath the original story.
But wait, Casey filed for another judgment
Casey did not include with his correction demand the new Motion for Judgment Nunc Pro Tunc that he filed October 3, 2022, in Travis County district court.
Attorney Bill Aleshire, on the Bulldog’s behalf, obtained and provided a copy of that Motion.
“It is unclear why Casey filed this new motion for nunc pro tunc when he got a judgment nunc pro tunc in 2017 to do what his new motion now seeks,” Aleshire said.
In lay terms, both motions sought to delete from the 2014 final order the court’s finding that the allegations in Zimmerman’s former wife’s motion were correct.
However, neither the 2017 Order nor the 2022 Order that Casey has requested, if granted, would change the restrictions on Zimmerman’s relationship with his daughter.
Casey’s 2022 motion claims, “…there was no evidence presented of any abuse, neglect, or family violence….”
In other words, Zimmerman, who’s now 62 years old, is asking the court again to remove the finding that the former wife’s material allegations were true. But Zimmerman has not asked to seal or remove documents filed in support of his former wife’s Petition to Modify Parent-Child Relationship February 16, 2011, that formed the basis for the Bulldog’s original story. Those documents included a physician’s records of three examinations of Zimmerman’s 12-year-old daughter on January 24, 2011; January 28, 2011; and February 11, 2011; and an affidavit from her stepfather.
The physician’s records documented injuries allegedly inflicted by the girl’s father. The final report recommended “Counseling: domestic violence, warned this was the most common cause of homicide in Texas and in our area and needs to be taken seriously. The situation seems to be escalating quickly due to CPS investigation.”
The Agreed Nunc Pro Tunc Order to Modify Parent-Child Relationship filed January 20, 2017, states, “the parties agreed that it is in the best interest of the child that Respondent (Zimmerman) not have possession or or access to the child.” The court so ordered.
The email that sent Casey’s correction demand included two files: (1) Motion for Judgment Nunc Pro Tunc of October 3, 2022, and (2) a Consent Order filed May 8, 2015, in Superior Court of New Jersey, Somerset County. In the New Jersey order Zimmerman agreed to termination of his parental rights and gave consent for the daughter’s name to be changed from Marina Lorna Zimmerman to Marina Lorna Bochenkova. He also gave consent for the girl’s adoption by Ani Fox Bochenkov (her stepfather).
The New Jersey order provided for the parties “to amend and/or vacate the portion of the June 16, 2014, Order entered in the District Court of Travis County, Texas, such that the order no longer reflects the allegations against the Respondent.” To the Bulldog”s knowledge, no such order has been entered.
Bulldog rejects demand for correction
Peter Kennedy of Austin-based Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, representing the Bulldog, responded to Casey with an October 14th letter that provided several reasons why the Bulldog rejected the correction demand:
(1) Zimmerman filed a libel lawsuit over the article in 2014 and that lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice (meaning the plaintiff is barred from filing a lawsuit on the same issue at a later date). Zimmerman was ordered to pay attorney’s fees and additional sanctions under the Texas Citizens Participation Act. The order was not appealed and Zimmerman eventually paid the judgment. That case is final and cannot be relitigated.
(2) A claim for libel is barred by limitations for one year, starting when the article was first published.
(3) The request for retraction is meritless. The later order issued in 2017 does not change history. The article was based on court documents in which Zimmerman, through counsel, admitted that allegations of abuse were true. “Mr. Zimmerman’s after-the-fact effort to hide what happened during a judicial proceeding does not create a libel claim for an article published in 2014.”
Legal threat timed for Zimmerman’s candidacy
Zimmerman is a candidate for Round Rock ISD’s Board of Trustees. He is running for the Place 6 position against incumbent Vice President Tiffanie Harrison, who has been on the board since 2020. Her biography on the district’s website states she was a marketing teacher at Round Rock High School for nine years and is a general partner at the Radical Equity Fund.
Zimmerman was elected to the Austin City Council in 2014 and served for two years representing District 6. Seven months into his time on the City Council he sued the City of Austin to overturn the campaign finance restrictions under which he was elected. In 2016 he was defeated for reelection. In 2020 he ran unsuccessfully for State Senate District 14 to fill the unexpired term of Kirk Watson, who resigned for a job in academia.
Texans for Zimmerman’s Facebook page is headlined “Don Zimmerman for RRISD Trustee Place 6.” The introduction on the page states, “Don Zimmerman is the representative Round Rock ISD needs now” with his email address and a link to his campaign website.
One of the photos on the Facebook page, posted September 23rd, is titled “Child Porn Lovers Guide to Board Elections” and features the photographs of three candidates for RRISD trustee: Estevan “Chuy” Zarate, Alicia Markum, and Zimmerman’s opponent Tiffanie Harrison. The photo also includes a drawing attributed to Harper’s Weekly, October 21, 1876, that depicts two white men flanking a Black man. Both of the white men are holding pistols to his head. The caption says, “Of course he wants to vote the Democrat Ticket.”
2014 lawsuit aimed to bar coverage
Zimmerman sued the Bulldog over that story in 2014, alleging defamation. Then, on the very night he won a runoff for the District 6 seat on the City Council, he tried to drop the litigation. It was too late. He was kept on the hook because the Bulldog had filed an Anti-SLAPP motion under the state statute that protects free speech.
After two hearings in a Travis County district court, Judge Amy Clark Meacham found in the Bulldog’s favor and levied a judgment totaling $9,979. That included $8,400 for the Bulldog’s legal fees, $579 in court costs, and a $1,000 sanction to deter Zimmerman from bringing another frivolous lawsuit. The court’s decision came the day after he was sworn into office.
As I wrote in the wake of Zimmerman’s libel suit in 2014, while Zimmerman’s case was on shaky legal ground, from a purely political viewpoint, filing a lawsuit provided Zimmerman with a ready argument for anyone who questioned him about the child abuse allegations during his campaign for City Council.
Casey’s recent motion of October 3rd and his demand correction of October 11th seem motivated by the same political goal, to prevent his past conduct from becoming an issue while campaigning for a seat on Round Rock ISD’s board of trustees.
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 20-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].
Agreed Nunc Pro Tunc Order in Suit to Modify Parent-Child Relationship, January 20, 2017 (12 pages)
Attorney Peter Kennedy’s response to attorney Stephen Casey’s correction demand, October 14, 2022 (2 pages)
Attorney Stephen Casey’s Correction Demand pursuant to Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code, October 11, 2022 (2 pages)
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Chapter 27, Texas Civil Practices and Remedy Code, November 25, 2014 (113 pages)
Don Zimmerman appointment of a campaign treasurer, June 13, 2022 (2 pages)
Don Zimmerman Campaign Finance Report, October 11, 2022 (30 pages)
Don Zimmerman Campaign Finance Report, July 13, 2022 (21 pages)
Motion for Judgment Nunc Pro Tunc, October 3, 2022, which includes filing in Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, May 8, 2015 (5 pages)
Related Bulldog coverage:
Council Member Zimmerman sues city, July 29, 2015
Zimmerman lawsuit a costly boondoggle, January 18, 2015
Zimmerman lawsuit dismissed and sanctioned, January 7, 2015
Bulldog defends Zimmerman lawsuit, November 25, 2014
Zimmerman sues Bulldog, claims defamation, October 16, 2014
Zimmerman threatens lawsuit over abuse stories, October 15, 2014 (Austin Monitor)
Candidate lost custody over abuse, October 9, 2014
Can you explain why you are capitalizing “Black” but not “White” here? The seething hatred for White people that you folks have really shines through with things like that.
Thanks for your interest in The Austin Bulldog and asking a question, Alex.
We generally adhere to the Associated Press Style book for how to handle such matters. You can see AP’s reasoning for not capitalizing the white race at https://apnews.com/article/archive-race-and-ethnicity-9105661462
As for the “seething hatred for white people” you allege, I am an 82-year-old white man who’s assisted by one white reporter. I’m not sure how you arrived at that perception, but it’s erroneous. I’ve been a journalist for 41 years and been accused or many things, and no doubt suspected of many more, but this is the first time I’ve been accused of hating my own race (or any other race for that matter).
Thank goodness the Bulldog won the lawsuit but stil it must have been a lot of wasted time and energy. Zimmerman’s abusing the legal system and stifling journalism for political purposes: despicable.
Yes, Anonymous, the lawsuit was indeed a waste of time and energy. Fortunately, in Texas we have an Anti-SLAPP statute that gives publishers a great tool for batting down frivolous lawsuits. (A SLAPP is Strategic Lawsuit Against Citizen Participation). The Texas Citizen Participation Act provides that if an Anti-SLAPP motion is filed it freezes the plaintiff’s discovery and it provides for a court hearing in which the plaintiff must prove a defamation claim. And it provides for sanctions against plaintiffs to discourage filing new frivolous lawsuits. https://www.antislapptexas.com