Defamation Suit Puts New Law to the Test

Jun 19, 12

“In September 2010, two Democratic candidates for the State Board of Education posted a YouTube video satirizing the work of the board’s “right-wing extremist” members in revising Texas’ curriculum.

One line in the four-minute clip, which is no longer online, focused on David Barton — a conservative historian and activist whom the board had consulted as an expert — as being “known for speaking at white supremacist rallies.”

Almost a year later, Mr. Barton, whose organization, WallBuilders, promotes what it calls “the forgotten Christian heritage of the United States,” filed a lawsuit accusing the two candidates, Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings, of defamation. The case has become an early test of new tort reform legislation intended to protect free speech.

The law, which the Legislature passed in 2011 with bipartisan support, provides a process for the early dismissal of meritless legal claims filed to intimidate critics — so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. It is aimed at plaintiffs who use the court system to try to quiet their opponents by drowning them in legal fees and paperwork, often with no expectation of winning their cases.”

Read the full post from the New York Times here:

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