Judge Tells Avi Adelman He Can Depose City Council Candidate Philip Kingston
Back in September, attorney Melissa Kingston sued Lower Greenville blogger/rancorous shit-disturber Avi Adelman, memorably calling him "a self-proclaimed vigilante-style neighborhood activist who more accurately resembles a neighborhood terrorist."
The whole fight began over the new Wal-Mart in that neighborhood: Adelman hates it, while Kingston says she was working with five neighborhood associations to negotiate some new, less-horrible lighting in its parking lot. But the day after the lights went up, Kingston alleges, Adelman registered a domain name in her name and started sending emails to Wal-Mart and the neighborhood groups from it. His emails also featured Wal-Mart's logo, altered to read "Wal Mart: Screwing Neighborhoods, One House at a Time."
Kingston wanted him to cut that out. She also wanted a temporary restraining order preventing him from getting anywhere her home or business, which Judge Carlos Cortez granted in late September. But as a new hearing this morning made clear, the real issue has become the extent to which Philip Kingston, Melissa's husband and a City Council candidate for Angela Hunt's spot in District 14, will be dragged into the case.
Today, Philip Kingston's lawyer implied that Adelman was only eager to get Kingston deposed so that he could videotape the whole thing and put it on his website, Barking Dogs.
In a filing in October, Adelman argued that Kingston's campaign was the entire reason for his wife's lawsuit, and that the couple was trying to silence him and his blog. He's been the opposite of silent so far, posting legal documents to Barking Dogs as well as an incredibly weird picture of Angela Hunt holding a baby with Philip Kingston's face. (Another picture of Kingston on the site features the Wal-Mart logo and the word "PWNED" superimposed over his face in giant red letters, thus proving that "pwned" is officially no longer a cool thing to say, if it ever was.)
Through his attorney, Justin Nichols of San Antonio, Adelman has asked that the suit be dismissed under Texas' anti-SLAPP laws, which prohibit lawsuits meant only to stifle criticism. That motion wasn't considered today; however, the judge did consider whether letters sent by both sides during an attempted settlement negotiation could be used to prove Adelman's assertion that the lawsuit is an attempt to shut him up. The judge eventually granted that motion.
The main issue, though, was Philip Kingston. His lawyer, James Stanton, told the judge that Kingston is "a stranger to this lawsuit" and that he feared that if Kingston were deposed, it would be "misused" by Adelman and put online.
"This shouldn't be an art project for the Internet," Stanton said. "That's not what the litigation process is about." He asked for a restraining order on how the video could be used, as well as a requirement that the whole thing be witnessed by a professional court stenographer.
Nichols argued that a professional stenographer would be way too expensive, and that Adelman hadn't put anything online that wasn't already public record. When the judge asked if the deposition would in fact end up online, Nichols replied, "I have not had that conversation with Mr. Adelman." But he added that the deposition wasn't "some creative way to harass Mr. Kingston." (He also admitted that a previous phone conversation with Stanton about the potential deposition had gotten "feisty.")
The judge ultimately ruled that Mr. Kingston can be deposed, but that the deposition "will not be for public consumption." If Stanton wants a stenographer present, he'll have to pay for it, not Adelman.
The judge also took a moment, or several of them, to chide Nichols for trying to get the male Kingston in the courtroom today via a subpoena served last night at the Kingston's home by a private process server. It's the second time they've tried to subpoena Mr. Kingston. The judge clarified, with some irritation, that sending people to the house was a violation of the temporary restraining order.
"When I say, don't come to her residence, is that not clear?" he asked Nichols.
"I didn't think it included the process server," the lawyer replied.
"So you get to make that call?" the judge asked, rhetorically.
"I didn't think it violated the spirit of the TRO," Nichols explained.
"Oh, the spirit," Judge Cortez replied. (Only judges are able to cram so much sarcastic, weary, disbelieving grouchiness into so few syllables.)
The judge then went on to tell both parties that "this is going to get ugly real quick" if people tried to abuse the discovery process during the suit.
"There is no case that is worth your law license," he added.
Nichols quickly withdrew his subpoena for Mr. Kingston.
"That's a good decision," the judge told him. He added that any more "chicanery" or "misuse of the discovery process" would make him very unhappy.
After the hearing, Melissa Kingston declined to comment. Adelman stood in the hall, mopping his forehead and looking uncharacteristically subdued. He denied that he'd ever planned to throw the whole deposition online.
"I need to digest this," he added. "I think we did good though."