Weatherford Democrat

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February 22, 2013

Media weigh in on Wallbuilders case

By CHRISTIN COYNE

Nearly two dozen news media and public advocacy organizations weighed in last week on a matter before the Texas Supreme Court involving a lawsuit filed by David Barton and Parker County-based Wallbuilders against two former Texas State Board of Education candidates.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit that offers free legal support to journalists, along with 19 news organizations and other groups, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court last week supporting a request by Judy A. Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau to overturn an appeals court decision.

In early 2012, 415th District Judge Graham Quisenberry denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case under a new state anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) law that seeks to protect First Amendment rights for speakers who may be frivously sued to inhibit their speech.

They hoped to require Barton to provide evidence of the claims to avoid having his case dismissed.

Jennings and Bell-Metereau appealed Quisenberry’s decision to the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth but the Fort Worth court denied the appeal on Aug. 16, finding that, because of the wording of the law, they could not hear an appeal.

Barton sued the women, who ran unsuccessfully for seats on the Texas Board of Education, for videos they aired that Barton, a political advisor, said cast him as a white supremacist and liar.

Attorneys for Jennings and Bell-Metereau have asked the state’s highest court to hear the issue, arguing that the legislature never intended to deny the opportunity of appeal.

It’s the first time an appeals court has interpreted how the new state law works, Julie Ford, an attorney for Jennings and Bell-Metereau, told the Democrat in October.

“We’re hoping that the Supreme Court can give us some guidance on how this new statute works,” Ford said.

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