Paul C. Watler
Paul Watler is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and is widely recognized for his work on First Amendment, media law, commercial, and “Bet-the-Company” cases. Paul’s victories in court range from opening up Love Field in Dallas for long-haul airline service to winning one of the most frequently cited Texas Supreme Court opinions on media libel law.
Paul has successfully represented numerous newspapers, television stations, media companies, websites, and journalists in libel, anti-SLAPP (Texas Citizens Participation Act), public information, invasion of privacy, copyright, news gathering, and commercial lawsuits. He argued for a national news media consortium to unseal court records in the Oklahoma City bombing case. Paul’s long-standing success representing media outlets earned him recognition as the “Go-To Lawyer” for media litigation in the Lone Star State by Texas Lawyer, but he has also won million dollar-plus verdicts at jury trial for plaintiffs and defendants in commercial cases.
Paul’s court experience covers a wide range of complex cases including libel, employment, aviation, healthcare, securities, banking, media, intellectual property, antitrust, oil and gas, and real estate. He has successfully defended business clients against an assortment of claims such as tortious interference, intentional infliction of emotional distress, Lanham Act claims, unfair competition, false advertising, copyright and trademark infringement, securities fraud, employment discrimination, and wrongful termination.
2018 Libel Victory in Texas Supreme Court – In May 2018, The Dallas Morning News was vindicated in the Texas Supreme Court on First Amendment principles against defamation claims arising from a controversial column, “Shrouding suicide leaves its danger unaddressed.” The column disclosed that a paid obituary regarding a popular local high school student omitted that the death was a suicide, not the result of injuries sustained in a car accident.
In the court’s 41-page opinion, Justice Jeff Brown wrote that the column was not actionable because “it is an opinion piece through and through” and was true.
Paul led a Jackson Walker LLP team including Shannon Zmud Teicher that defended the case in the trial court and on appeal. Co-counsel for The News in the Supreme Court were Wallace Jefferson and Rachel Ekery of Alexander, Dubose, Jefferson & Townshend.
B.J., University of Texas at Austin
J.D., University of Texas School of Law
- Texas Law Review, Member
United States Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the State of Texas
United States Court of Appeals for the Third, Fifth, and Tenth Circuits
United States District Court for the Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of Texas
Civil Trial Law
Paul has represented a cross-section of leading Texas corporations in a variety of complex matters, including:
- Defending a Texas bank against claims arising from the Allen Stanford Ponzi-scheme case.
- Obtaining a verdict at jury trial to preserve the historical right to draw water from the Edwards Aquifer by one of the largest employers in New Braunfels, Texas. The judgment included an award of more than $500,000 in attorney fees to Paul’s client.
- Securing the right of a start-up Dallas-based airline to offer long-haul service from Love Field in Dallas in a highly publicized “David v. Goliath” fight over the Wright Amendment.
- Obtaining a defense verdict at jury trial to vindicate a Dallas-based media corporation in a dispute over a $160 million television station acquisition.
- Defending a San Antonio television station at jury trial against breach of contract claims by a former news anchor.
A newspaper reporter before attending law school, Paul has represented newspapers, television stations, and journalists throughout his legal career. Some of his notable cases include:
- Many of the first Texas cases against media outlets arising under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute enacted in 2011.
- The leading decision by the Texas Supreme Court defining a public figure in a libel suit.
- The first Texas case recognizing the privilege of a news reporter as a defendant in a libel suit to not disclose the identity of confidential news sources.
- The leading Fifth Circuit and Texas appellate opinions applying the “single publication rule” to internet publishers in libel cases.
- The leading Fifth Circuit and Texas Supreme Court opinions on personal jurisdiction over out-of-state defendants in cross-border defamation cases.
- Winning a Texas Supreme Court decision establishing the right of journalists under the state freedom of information law to obtain governmental records.
- Representing DFW daily newspapers in unsealing court records in a widely-reported priest sex abuse case.
- Defending a Texas newspaper in a libel suit over an article criticizing a conspiracy theory proffered by a physician who treated President Kennedy at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
- Defending a Texas newspaper against allegations of computer hacking in connection with the high-profile news report of the “confession” of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
In addition to success in the courtroom, Paul frequently counsels news media clients on prevention of libel and privacy suits. His clients have received the highest awards in journalism, including the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, the Columbia/DuPont Gold and Silver Batons and the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism, for projects in which Paul provided First Amendment legal counsel.
Paul has handled a number of copyright, trademark, and unfair competition cases throughout his years of practice. He has routinely provided counsel to news media clients regarding fair use of copyrighted material. In the courthouse, Paul has:
- Defended a national magazine publisher against trademark/trade name infringement claims.
- Pursued trademark/trade name infringement claims on behalf of a regional cable news network.
- Defended a Texas cable news network and network affiliate broadcaster against claims of copyright infringement for use of a studio portrait in news reporting on the high-profile “cadet murder case” in Fort Worth.
- Represented a major Texas hospital system in the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall against claims of unfair competition and false advertising.
- Defended a major Dallas/Fort Worth advertising agency at trial in a dispute over creation of a trade name.
Paul frequently appears as an advocate on First Amendment, media law, and other issues in the Texas Supreme Court, Fifth Circuit, and other appellate courts. He has handled appeals in libel, privacy, public information, anti-SLAPP, media, aviation, oil and gas, banking, securities, commercial law, and criminal defense. He has argued winning cases in the Texas Supreme Court, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and intermediate state appellate courts across Texas. In addition to the Texas Supreme Court, Paul is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the Third, Fifth, and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeal.
Examples of appellate cases or published opinions in cases handled include the following:
- Dallas Morning News, Inc. v. Tatum, 554 S.W.3d 614 (Tex. 2018). The Dallas Morning News was vindicated in the Texas Supreme Court on First Amendment principles against defamation claims arising from a controversial column, “Shrouding suicide leaves its danger unaddressed.” The column disclosed that a paid obituary regarding a popular local high school student omitted that the death was a suicide, not the result of injuries sustained in a car accident.
- Vodicka v. A.H. Belo Corp., No. 05-17-00729-CV, 2018 WL 3301592 (Tex. App.—Dallas, July 5, 2018, pet. filed). In an opinion affirming dismissal of a defamation suit against the parent company of the Dallas Morning News, the Fifth Court of Appeals wrote that the plaintiff had failed to prove his argument that the defendant’s stories regarding the suspicious death of a Dallas attorney would have given a reasonable person the impression that he the plaintiff was connected to the death.
- TV Azteca v. Ruiz, 490 S.W.3d 29 (Tex. 2016). Specific personal jurisdiction against foreign media defendants in cross-border libel case.
- Salomon v. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, LLC, 2015 WL 5737935, (N.D. Tex. 2015). Granting motion to dismiss breach of contract action arising out of failed transaction for purchase of large-scale aerial camera business.
- Dallas Morning News, Inc. v. Mapp, S.W.3d 2015 WL 3932868 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2015). Reversing denial of newspaper’s Citizens Participation Act (anti-SLAPP) motion to dismiss libel case. Plaintiff was unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate who complained of editorial regarding his controversial immigration platform.
- Cruz v. Van Sickle, 452 S.W.3d 503 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014). Affirming dismissal under anti-SLAPP statute in favor of on-line news website arising from report on controversial judicial candidate.
- Mayfield v. Fullhart, 444 S.W.3d (Tex. App.—Hou. 2014) Affirming summary judgment for television station defendant in media libel case. First application of “single-publication rule” to internet defamation by Texas appellate court.
- In re Fort Worth Star Telegram, 441 S.W.3d 847 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, 2014). News reporters erroneously excluded from juvenile court in “affluenza”-related case.
- Shipp v. Malouf, 439 S.W.3d 432 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014). Reversing denial of anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss by television reporter in libel case arising from reporting on alleged massive Medicaid fraud scheme.
- Paselk v. State, 2013 WL 4791417 (E.D. Tex. 2013). Granting television station defendants’ motion to dismiss media libel case.
- Scripps Texas Newspaper, LP v. Carter, 2012 WL 5948955 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi, pet. denied). Appeal of denial of summary judgment in newspaper libel case involving plaintiff’s status as limited purpose public figure.
- In re Dallas Morning News, Inc., 2012 WL 611374 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2012) Denying mandamus in motion to quash subpoena of news reporter.
- Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts v. Attorney General of Texas, 354 S.W.3d (Tex. 2010). State employees’ dates of birth were not subject to disclosure under Texas Public Information Act.
- In re Rabb, 293 S.W.3d 865 (Tex. App. – Dallas 2009, original proceeding). First reported decision under Texas Free Flow of Information Act (reporter shield law).
- City of Dallas v. Dallas Morning News, LP, 281 S.W.3d 708 (Tex. App. – Dallas 2009). Appeal of summary judgment in favor of newspaper in public information act suit over access to mayor’s blackberry email.
- Nguyen v. Dallas Morning News, LP, 2008 WL 2511183 (Tex. App. – Fort Worth 2008). Trial court should have granted motion by newspaper intervenors to unseal court records in priest sex abuse case.
- Booker v. Blow, 2008 WL 152226 (Tex. App. – Dallas 2008). Affirming dismissal of suit complaining of newspaper’s failure to publish article exposing alleged conspiracy against inmate.
- Nationwide Bi-Weekly Administration, Inc. v. Belo Corp., et al., 512 F.3d 137, 36 Media L. Rep. 1065, (5th Cir., 2007). Single publication rule bars libel claims against Internet publishers on limitations grounds.
- Belo Corp. v. Publicaciones Paso Del Norte, S.A. De C.V., __ S.W.3d __, 2007 WL 2729867, (Tex. App.—El Paso, September 20, 2007). Interlocutory appeal of denial of defendants’ motion for summary judgment in media libel case. Reversed and summary judgment granted to defendants.
- KENS-TV, Inc. v. Farias, __ S.W.3d __, 2007 WL 2253502, (Tex. App.—San Antonio, August 8, 2007). Libel suit by Democratic candidate for state representative against Republican opponent and broadcasters. Interlocutory appeal of denial of defendants’ motion for summary judgment; reversed and summary judgment granted to defendants.
- Epstein v. Gray Television, Inc., 474 F.Supp. 835 (S.D. Tex. 2007); companion opinion, 2007 WL 295632. Opinions on personal jurisdiction and venue in media libel case over “bad medicine” news reports. Case non-suited by plaintiff-physician after venue transfer to South Carolina.
- Humane Soc. of Dallas v. Dallas Morning News, L.P., 180 S.W.3d 921, (Tex. App.—Dallas 2005). Summary judgment affirmed for medial libel defendants.
- Revell v. Lidov, 317 F.3d 467, (5th Cir. 2002). Dismissal affirmed of Internet libel case for lack of personal jurisdiction over defendants.
- Crumrine v. Harte-Hanks Television, Inc., 37 S.W.3d 124, (Tex. App.—San Antonio 2001). Police officer plaintiff contended privacy was invaded by news report that revealed his HIV-positive status. Summary judgment affirmed for defendants.
- Ford v. City of Huntsville, 242 F.3d 235, (5th Cir. 2001). Federal district must consider state open records law before sealing workplace discrimination case by female police officer.
- Legend Airlines, Inc. v. City of Fort Worth, 23 S.W.3d 83, Tex. App.—Fort Worth, 2000. Federal Airline Deregulation Act preempted local municipal bond ordinance restricting interstate airline service at Dallas Love Field.
- City of Garland v. Dallas Morning News, 22 S.W.3d 351 (Tex. 2000). Establishing the right of journalist’s under the state freedom of information law to obtain governmental records.
- Brown v. Wilson County, 1999 WL 33290666 (W.D.Tex.). Defendants’ motions to dismiss granted following plaintiffs’ dismissal of client.
- In re Continental Airlines, Inc., 988 S.W.2d 733, (Tex. App.—Fort Worth, 1998). Venue in declaratory judgment/injunction case.
- WFAA-TV, Inc. v. McLemore, 978 S.W.2d 568, (Tex. 1998). First Texas Supreme Court opinion establishing definition of “public figure” in a libel case. One of the most frequently cited defamation decisions in Texas law. Arose out of breaking news coverage of “Branch Davidian” shoot-out in Waco.
- US. v. Robinson, 119 F.3d 1205 (5th Cir. 1997). Reversing sentence of defendant in Hobbs Act robbery case.
- Morris v. Dallas Morning News, Inc., 934 S.W.2d 410, (Tex. App.—Waco 1996). Summary judgment affirmed for newspaper libel defendants in suit by police officers.
- Brown v. Hearst Corp., 54 F.3d. 21 (1st Cir. 1995). Summary judgment affirmed for defendants in media libel case following venue transfer from N.D. Tex. (Watler counsel in Texas).
- Houston Chronicle Pub. Co. v. Crapitto, 907 S.W.2d 99, (Tex. App.—Hou. [14th Dist.], 1995). First Amendment right of news media to open court in high-profile criminal trial.
- Upjohn Co. v. Freeman, 906 S.W.2d 92, (Tex. App.—Dallas 1995). Rule 76a sealing of court records.
- Rogers v. Dallas Morning News, Inc., 889 S.W.2d 467 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1994). Summary judgment affirmed for media libel defendants.
- Thigpen v. Sparks, 983 F.2d 644, 1993 WL 18577, C.A.5 (Tex.), February 16, 1993 (No. 91-1977, 91-1977).
- Dallas Morning News Co. v. Board of Trustees of Dallas Independent School Dist., 861 S.W.2d 532, (Tex. App.—Dallas 1993). Texas Open Meetings Act suit.
- Dallas Morning News v. Fifth Court of Appeals, 842 S.W.2d 655 (Tex. 1992). Rule 76a sealing of court records.
- Lewis v. A.H. Belo Corp., 818 S.W.2d 856 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 1991). Affirming summary judgment for newspaper libel defendants.
- Matter of Dallas Morning News Co., 916 F.2d 205, (5th Cir. 1990). First Amendment right of news media to open court in high-profile criminal trial.
- Buffalo Ranch Co., Ltd. v. Thomason, 727 S.W.2d 331, Tex. App.—Hou. [1st Dist.], 1987. Dispute over oil and gas royalties.
- Kneeland v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 806 F.2d 1285 (5th Cir. 1987). Texas Open Records Act case.
- A. H. Belo Corp. v. Southern Methodist University, 734 S.W.2d 720 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1987). Texas Open Records Act case.
- The Best Lawyers in America (Woodward/White Inc.), 1995-2022
- Bet-the-Company Litigation, 2010-2021
- Commercial Litigation, 2006-2022
- First Amendment Law, 1995-2022
- Litigation – First Amendment, 2011-2022
- Media Law, 2017-2022
- Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business, Ranked for First Amendment Litigation (USA – Nationwide), 2022
- Texas Super Lawyer, Super Lawyers by Thomson Reuters, 2003-2021
- Go-To Lawyer – Media Litigation in Texas, Texas Lawyer, 2007
- James Madison Award, Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
- Associate of the Year, Texas Association of Broadcasters
- News writing awards
- Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, Texas Press Association
- “Aligning Open Government Ideals With Law Enforcement Provisions,” Jackson Walker Insights (Oct. 30, 2018)
- “Keep the public informed by releasing the video in Austin bombing case,” Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Blog (April 3, 2018)
- “Texas Journalists Provide Early Warning, Dramatic Reports of Heroic Rescues During Hurricane Harvey,” Jackson Walker Insights (Sept. 28, 2017)
- Co-Author, “U.S. Attorney General Announces Plans to Pursue Leak Investigations,” Jackson Walker Insights (Aug. 31, 2017)
- Co-Author, “Supreme Court Ruling Curtails Forum-Shopping,” Jackson Walker Insights (June 22, 2017)
- Panelist, “First Amendment: Under Siege?” University of North Texas (Feb. 16, 2017)
In the News
- “Bonus: The bomber’s confession tape | Austin Bomber by Darkness,” The Drag Audio Production House by The University of Texas Moody College of Communication (December 7, 2021)
- “North Texas Patients Not Immune To Theft But Private Hospital Police Can Keep Cases Secret,” CBS Dallas/Fort Worth (March 27, 2019)
- “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Strikes Down Key Texas Open Meetings Act Provision,” Texas Association of Broadcasters (March 4, 2019)
- “Lone Star Politics December 23, 2018,” NBC 5 (Dec. 23, 2018) – Featured in an interview with State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione on Texas Public Information Act
- “Texas Justices Say ‘Defamatory’ Column Was Opinion,” Law360 (May 14, 2018)
- “SCOTX: Dallas Morning News Column maybe ‘Callous’ but not ‘Defamatory’,” The Texas Lawbook (May 12, 2018)
- “Texas Supreme Court dismisses defamation lawsuit against The Dallas Morning News,” The Dallas Morning News (May 11, 2018)
- “Bexar County clerks deeply opposed to proposed online records database,” San Antonio Express-News (Feb. 10, 2017)
Paul C. and Julia A. Watler Endowed Scholarship for Investigative Journalism
A highlight for Paul for more than two decades has been providing First Amendment counsel to news media clients producing outstanding public service journalism. Paul’s clients have been recognized with the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, the Columbia Du Pont Gold and Silver Baton Awards, the Peabody Award and many other national, state and local honors for news reporting for which Paul provided First Amendment counsel. In appreciation of that career opportunity, Mr. Watler and his wife in 2015 established and funded the Paul C. and Julia A. Watler Endowed Scholarship for Investigative Journalism in the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin. The scholarship is annually awarded to an outstanding journalism student at the University where Paul earned his Bachelor of Journalism and serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council.
Beyond his work with the Paul C. and Julia A. Watler Endowed Scholarship for Investigative Journalism, Paul is involved both personally and professionally with the following organizations:
- Special Texas Supreme Court Advisory Committee
- American Bar Association
- State Bar of Texas
- Public Affairs Committee, Former Chair
- Advertising Review Committee, Inaugural Member
- Dallas Bar Association
- Media Relations Committee, Former Chair
- The University of Texas at Austin – Moody College of Communication, Advisory Council
- Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
- Former President
- Twin Bridge and Oak Highlands Homeowner’s Associations, Past President
- North Texas Public Broadcasting (KERA), Former Board Member
Paul’s practice as a media lawyer and defender of the First Amendment has been portrayed in works of non-fiction and as the basis of characters in two novels.
Fresh Ink, by David Gelsanliter:
The story of the rise of a Dallas newspaper to national journalistic prominence includes a behind-the-scenes look at a critical court battle. Paul fights to protect confidential sources from a South Texas sheriff who claimed he was defamed by articles on his indictment for murder in Mexico.
Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy, by Stephen Jones:
The lead attorney for the Oklahoma City bomber provides his inside account of a legal showdown with Paul. In dueling press conferences broadcast nationally, Paul defends the Dallas newspaper against Jones’ allegations arising from the on-line publication of the leaked “confession” of Timothy McVeigh.
Doin’ Dirty, by Howard Swindle:
Dallas lawyer “Paul Watling” faces down a threatened libel suit by a Texas rancher turned drug smuggler in a work of fiction from a former Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative editor.
Not Guilty: A Jack Crocker & Jimmy McGuire Mystery, by Ralph Langer:
A Dallas private investigator gets dragged to court in a mystery novel written by a former newspaper executive editor whose tenure earned nine Pulitzer Prizes. “I know who we need. Paul Wilson is the paper’s First Amendment attorney. He’s as good as it gets on these issues.”