Jackson Walker L.L.P. won a significant victory for its media clients, reporter LeaAnne Klentzman and newspaper publisher Carter Publications, Inc. d/b/a The West Fort Bend Star, on Thursday, December 18, 2014, when the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed the trial court’s judgment awarding damages on a jury verdict to the plaintiff, Wade Brady (son of former Chief Deputy Craig Brady of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department), and remanded the case for a new trial. The opinion on motion for rehearing issued in Klentzman v. Brady, Cause No. 01-11-00765-CV (on appeal from the 240th District Court of Fort Bend County, Texas, Cause No. 03-CV-129531).
The case involved a libel claim brought by Mr. Brady against The Star and Ms. Klentzman, a former reporter for The Star. The claim related to an article that appeared in The Star in 2003 that reported on certain questionable actions taken by the Chief Deputy related to his son’s run-ins with law enforcement, including meeting with the officers involved in issuing a minor in possession of alcohol ticket to the Chief Deputy’s son.
A Fort Bend County jury heard the case in April 2011. The jury awarded Mr. Brady $50,000 in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages. These amounts were reduced to $30,000 and $200,000, respectively, by the trial court and an earlier appellate decision. In reversing the entire verdict and judgment of the trial court in its most recent opinion, the appellate court found that the article related to matters of public concern and, therefore, Mr. Brady was required to prove falsity, actual damages, and actual malice, none of which was required by the trial court. This higher burden of proof is required because of the importance of robust free speech on matters of public concern under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Jackson Walker partner John K. Edwards represented the appellants as lead counsel, with assistance from partner Amanda Bush and associate Luke Gilman. The Jackson Walker team has defended the case since its inception in 2003 on a pro bono basis, expending hundreds of hours of time valued at over $1 million. John Zavitsanos and Todd Mensing of the firm Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi, and Mensing represented the appellee, Mr. Brady.
Ms. Klentzman, the reporter who wrote the article, was pleased with the Court’s ruling and praised the efforts of the Jackson Walker team: “I was thrilled to learn of the reversal of the judgment against me and The Star – it’s been a long road. And we were successful largely due to the expertise, dedication, and determination of Mr. Edwards and the entire Jackson Walker team. Armed with this ruling, the media in Fort Bend County and elsewhere in Texas can continue the important function of informing the public about the conduct of law enforcement and public officials.”
The case received significant media coverage, including articles in The Texas Lawbook, Houston Chronicle, Fort Bend Star, Fort Bend Independent, and TABulletin (Texas Association of Broadcasters newsletter).
This hard-fought victory in a case spanning more than 11 years demonstrates the strength of the firm’s Media Law group, which is one of the most prominent in the country, providing a full range of services to its media clients for more than 100 years.