"A Great Day for the First Amendment": Appeals Court Tosses HP Developer's Defamation Claims

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Carla Main
At this late date I won't detail the case pitting Highland Park developer Hiram Walker Royall against author Carla Main, which we've been following for the past three years. Let's just put it like this: Royall, who was involved in an eminent domain case down in Freeport, became the subject of Main's gripping tome Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. Royall didn't like that and sued Main for defamation -- and not only did he go after Main, but also the publisher, a law prof who offered a nice book-jacket blurb and a critic who praised the nonfiction thriller.

Long legal story short, in '09 a Dallas trial court sided with Royall and said Main and her publisher, Encounter Books, weren't covered by that silly ol' First Amendment. At which point the Institute for Justice helped take the defamation suit to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in September; the justices rendered their decision late yesterday.

You can read Justice Elizabeth Lang-Miers's 28-page opinion here; she recaps this legal matter better than I -- and it's quite a good book report to boot. But far as the appeals court's concerned, Royall didn't offer "a scintilla of evidence" proving that the book defamed him in any way. Oh -- and Main's a member of the print media too, in case you couldn't tell. So it's back to trial court, with Royall taking nothing for now and his case suddenly that much harder to make.

Which tickles Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice handling the case: "Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics. The appeals court has exposed the frivolity of Royall's lawsuit, holding that Royall failed to prove that a single word of Bulldozed defames him." To which Main adds, in a statement, "This is a great day for the First Amendment and obviously, a great day in my life."
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8 comments
Dr. Burlough
Dr. Burlough

What's important,  a trial judge saw this differently,  doesn't say whether a jury was involved,  even if it was,  the judge still has the duty and power to grant what's called judgment n-o-v,  not withstanding the verdict.   For the appeals court to say there wasn't a 'scintilla of evidence',  that's a legal phrase,  not even the slightest,  a trial court having ruled there was a 'preponderance' of the evidence,  more than 50.1%,  they obviously saw it differently.

Royall appears to be doing a 'don't even think about messing with me.'   He'll almost certainly exercise his right to appeal to the Supremes,  the highest Civil court in Texas.

If you really feel strongly about the case,  write a check for some amount,   $10,  $25,  more to the Institute for Justice.  You'll find their info on the web.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

What gets me so much about Hiram Walker Royall is the fact the guy is a dealing in legally grey areas bordering on the criminal and has been exposed as such in this book, yet this SOB had the stones to sue. Thank goodness we have an appeals system that sided with the good guys in this case and defended not just this reporter, but all of our 1st amendment rights to speak up against evil in the world..

Addicus Finch
Addicus Finch

I believe the trail judge was Carlos Cortez. Go figure......

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

It's an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a traditional and no-evidence summary judgment motion.  So it was the judge who decided.

It's a little misleading to say that the trial court ruled that the 1st Amendment didn't apply.  He more likely ruled that there was a fact question regarding which evidentiary standard Royall should have to meet.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

They are not stones to sue, they are rocks of intimidation.

And he failed at it. he should take his rocks, tuck them betwen his legs and go home.

harveylacey
harveylacey

It doesn't take balls to be a bully.  If anything the opposite is true.

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