Author Engaged in Legal Tussle With HP Developer Tired of Being SLAPP'd Around

Carla HB 2973.jpg
Carla Main testifying down in Austin yesterday
We've written a few times in recent years about author Carla Main, who remains locked in a legal tussle with Highland Park developer Hiram Walker Royall over Main's '07 book Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land, which chronicles the brouhaha over land grabbed from a family shrimping business in Freeport to make way for a marina development. Royall, at the center of the dust-up, sued not only Main but most anyone who'd ever touched the book, including those who'd reviewed and blurbed the tome that had received little attention till Royall made a case of it in Dallas County District Court.

The case remains alive and well in the Fifth Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments from both sides in September after Judge Carlos Cortez denied Main's request for summary judgment. And yesterday it was very much the center of attention in front of the Texas House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, where Main appeared in support of House Bill 2973, also known as the Citizen Participation Act, which would "[encourage] public participation by citizens by protecting a person 's right to petition, right of free speech, and right of association from meritless lawsuits arising from actions taken in furtherance of those rights." Combined with Senate Bill 1565, they comprise the state's pending -- and bi-partisan -- anti-SLAPP legislation, which more than half the states already have.

On the other side is Main's testimony offered to the House committee, which was forwarded to Unfair Park by her attorneys at the Institute for Justice's Texas Center in Austin.
My name is Carla Main. I live in New Jersey, and I have traveled to Austin to support the Citizens Participation Act. I am a journalist. Before I became a journalist, I practiced law in New York City for many years. So I come to this issue with an understanding of the legal system as well as the importance of the first amendment and free speech.

I'm interested in this bill because I wrote a book, called Bulldozed, about eminent domain and a small city in East Texas -- Freeport -- and after the book came out I was sued in a Texas court for libel.

Back in 2005, I was writing about eminent domain and following the Kelo case as it made its way to the Supreme Court. I wanted to see how the case would affect American communities and write a book about it. I became aware of a controversy involving eminent domain in Freeport over the building of a marina. A business owner was fighting, with everything he had, against the town he loved. He was fighting the town, his neighbors, and a real estate developer.

The book, Bulldozed, came out in 2007. It was reviewed in newspapers and magazines all over the country. It won a political science writing award.

A year after it was published, I got a call from my publisher, telling me I was being sued by a real estate developer I wrote about in the book. -- and not just me. He was also suing my publisher-- Encounter books -- a small non-profit funded by the Bradley Foundation that publishes serious, intellectual books.

He also sued a professor who wrote a blurb on the back of the book.

But that wasn't all. He also sued a small community newspaper in Galveston and a freelance writer who wrote a review of Bulldozed for that paper.

By suing a small Texas paper and a Texas freelancer, the developer made it impossible for my publisher and me to remove the case to federal court where we could have moved to dismiss the case immediately. That is precisely the type of remedy that would have been available to us if the Citizens Participation Act had been on the books when Encounter and I were sued in 2008. Exactly one week and day after the time ran out to remove, or transfer, the case to federal court, the developer settled out of court with the community newspaper and the reviewer.

The case has now been pending for two and a half years. This case never should have progressed this far -- through discovery and motion practice and now on appeal. I am very fortunate to have pro bono counsel. Nonetheless, the stress and anxiety have taken an enormous toll on my emotionally and physically.
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21 comments
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me
me

2005: "FREEPORT - With Thursday's Supreme Court decision, Freeport officials instructed attorneys to begin preparing legal documents to seize three pieces of waterfront property along the Old Brazos River from two seafood companies for construction of an $8 million private boat marina."

Maybe there was no land taken because the owner of a $30-million-a-year business" fought, with everything he had, against the town he loved."

And "won the federal and state suits by 2007"

Just a crazy thought.

Cara
Cara

Hey Wilonsky - pay attention here, no land ever taken! Much ado about nothing.

Hugh
Hugh

I don't like these HP real estate types, but it does look like Wilonsky has dropped the ball here. Talked to an attorney friend of mine from Brazoria County (home to Freeport) and their has been no property taken. Also Royall won the last case against the Gores down there.

Tk55771
Tk55771

Dear Mrs. Main - Please do not come down here to our beloved Texas and write nasty, untrue things about its law abing, hard working residents. If you do, dont be suprised if you find yourself in court on the wrong side of a lawsuit. And dont be surpirsed if our smart judges deny your multiple attempts to have the case thrown out.

Cara
Cara

From my review of the case, this gal from New Jersery did slander Mr. Royall. As an attorney, maybe she should have know better and with all her legal firepower, why cant she get the case thrown out? Sounds like shes upset b/c she gonna get a Texas sized verdict against her.

Alfredo
Alfredo

I do want to make it clear I think Texas does need an anti-SLAPP law, but I do not think it should apply or to protect someone who writes a book.

Cara
Cara

If this is your evidence that there was property taken in Freeport, you have done even less reporting that I thought. Nowhere does it say property was taken. How about some real reporting and call the Freeport City Hall and ask them if they have ever taken anyones property through eminent domain?? Heres their # (979) 233-3527. Nobody has ever taken any property in Freeport, do your job and report facts not whats suits you to badger successful hard working people!!

me
me

Are you simply a bitch that likes to badger successful hardworking people or do you have some connection to Hiram Walker Royall?

They didn't take the land because he fought them and won.

Cara
Cara

Too bad wilonsky cant get the most basic facts of this case straight or he would know that no land was ever taken in Freeport Texas. And he admits he has been covering this for years!! Duh!! My 8 year old can do better reporting!!

me
me

Too bad your facts don't prove that the city didn't move to seize the property.

2005: "FREEPORT - With Thursday's Supreme Court decision, Freeport officials instructed attorneys to begin preparing legal documents to seize three pieces of waterfront property.

...Since September 2003, the city has been locked in a legal battle to acquire a 300-by-60-foot tract of land along the Old Brazos River near the Pine Street bridge as well as a 200-foot tract and 100-foot tract along the river through eminent domain from Western Seafood Co. and Trico Seafood Co.

http://www.chron.com/disp/stor...

Bob
Bob

Why doesn't the much touted Republican tort reform that Gov. Goodhair and his boy, Bob Perry, forced down our throats prevent lawsuits like this?

Oh, wait, Liqueur Boy Royall isn't one of the common folk who abuse the litigation structure for their own personal gain and profit--he's one of the much-abused "creators of jobs" that the Republicans have vowed to protect against the vile depradations of the common folk.

Tort reform? Yeah, for the rich and powerful. For the damaged worker, for the malpracticed patient, for the injured consumer, not tort reform, but denial, denial, denial.

Alfredo
Alfredo

BobThe Judge Cortez is a Democrat who was first elected in 06 and apparently found some merit in the lawsuit or at least enough to deny a summary judgment to the author

Citizen Kim
Citizen Kim

Since she's from Jersey, why doesn't she just hire someone to "persuade" Royall to "see things her way?"

Tom L (No, Not That L)
Tom L (No, Not That L)

Thank you, Robert, for writing about this. I found it very informative and I am glad to hear about the pending anti-SLAPP legislation.

Alfredo
Alfredo

There's a big difference in a SLAPP lawsuit over what somebody says or writes in a letter to the editor and writing a book. Libel law suits are almost impossible to and the fact that according to this story the author's motion for Summary Judgment was denied, translates the developer has some evidence to support is libel claim.

Adding local defendants is a tried and true method to avoid cases being transfered to Federal Courts.

Deep South
Deep South

It is apparent that Carla is from New Jersey when she states that Freeport is in East Texas.

It may be geographically, but culturally there are not enough dogs laying on front porch couches for it to be considered East Texas.

gladnotsad
gladnotsad

Thank you for this interesting and informative article. Best of luck to Ms. Main

Montemalone
Montemalone

So Mr. W., are you and Unfair Park now in the sites of H.W.Royall?

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