A three-judge panel for The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas last week ruled that a trial court erred in denying a local television news station the use of the state's anti-SLAPP ("Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation") law as a defense in a defamation claim by the founder of a school for special needs students.
Justice Jim Sharp wrote the 21-page opinion in KTRK Television, Inc. v. Theaola Robinson (Case No. 01-12-00372-CV) that decided the station should have been able to invoke the Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA") [Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. secs. 27.001-011] in its defense against the plaintiff's December 2011, lawsuit alleging she was defamed by reports aired by the ABC affiliate that purportedly accused her of embezzling $3 million in state funds. The station was covering a dispute between the Texas Education Association and Benji's Special Education Academy, the charter school Robinson founded in 1980.
"The reports did not say or imply that the entire $3 million in state funds had been misappropriated or embezzled," Justice Sharp wrote. "Rather, the statements speak to the insufficiency of financial records to account for spent state funds."
The appeallate panel said the plaintiff's defamation claim lacked sufficient proof and should have been dismissed under the TCPA. (Tip of the hat to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site, www.rcfp.org, for reporting on the case.)