Judge awards attorneys’ fees after TV station won anti-SLAPP lawsuit appeal

A Harris County judge has awarded Houston ABC affiliate KTRK-TV more than $250,000 in attorneys’ fees after the station won an appeal in an anti-SLAPP case, or anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation.

Austin-based Partner Laura Prather of Haynes and Boone, LLP, and Of Counsel Catherine Robb represented KTRK in the case.

“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.”

Prather is a board member and former president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, which advocates for free speech rights and open government.

The plaintiff, Theaola Robinson, founder of a charter school named Benji’s Special Education Academy, 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. Robinson 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 court 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 her attempts failed. All of the plaintiff’s claims were dismissed by the trial court when it issued the $250,000 fee award with additional prospective fee awards for further appeals.

At Haynes and Boone, Prather and Robb are members of the firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group. Prather is the lead author and negotiator of the Texas Citizens Participation Act (anti-SLAPP statute), the Free Flow of Information Act (reporter’s privilege) and the Defamation Mitigation Act (retraction statute), and together with Robb, they advise clients concerning media law issues for an extensive array of content providers.