Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

May 30, 2013

OPED: Champions of First Amendment deliver for Texas and its citizens

By DONNIS BAGGETT | Texas Press Association

When the dust settles from another hard-fought legislative session, the people of Texas will have a clearer picture of current events in the Lone Star State, thanks to the hard work and determination of two Texas statesmen — one Republican, one Democrat.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, scored major transparency victories in the 83rd Legislature. Three of those victories will be particularly helpful in strengthening and clarifying the public’s right to complete and accurate information.

One crucial bill that Ellis and Hunter shepherded through the legislative dust storm strengthens a crucial First Amendment law they passed two years ago.

That law took aim at legal actions known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) — suits filed against whistleblowers by individuals or entities who have plenty of money to pay lawyers.

SLAPP suits are designed to intimidate and stifle those who dare to exercise their First Amendment rights. Thanks to the 2011 law, however, it was finally possible for a David Q. Citizen with meager resources to defend himself against a SLAPP suit filed by a deep-pocketed Goliath.

Unfortunately, an appeals court ruled that the 2011 law did not include certain appeal rights for David. If a judge ruled against David’s motion to dismiss Goliath’s suit early in the process, David could very quickly find himself bankrupted by the expensive discovery process following that denial.

The legal tweak pushed through the 2013 session by Hunter and Ellis makes it crystal clear that David does, indeed, have a right to appeal, thereby stopping the discovery process until the motion is heard on appeal. It is a major victory for those who believe the quality of justice shouldn’t be determined by the depth of one’s pocketbook.

Another measure championed by Ellis and Hunter makes it clear that a government official’s use of his private electronic device for messages regarding public business does not allow him to hide those messages from public scrutiny.

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