Jefferson County v. Free Speech

The SE Texas Record Apr. 22, 2007, 9:00am

The hearing comes unprecedented. In 21st Century America, at least.

Two Record journalists accused of "milling" and "mingling" around the Jefferson County courthouse face District Judge Donald Floyd this Wednesday afternoon. Their challenge: defend their right to write and report upon our local civil justice system.

Their self-anointed prosecutor, asbestos attorney Brent Coon, is using a trumped-up, unsubstantiated charge that the journalists were "jury tampering" as his vehicle to harass them. Coon has spun a wild conspiracy theory to the court that this newspaper, among other things, is out to get him.

As he's filed literally thousands of toxic tort lawsuits across not just Texas but the nation, Mr. Coon is more newsworthy than most Beaumont lawyers, we'll admit. But he shouldn't flatter himself.

Like his peers on the plaintiff's bar, Coon is merely another protagonist at the Jefferson County Courthouse. He initiates the civil litigation we cover and, as such, is part of the story. And assuming Coon is proud of the cases he takes on, he has nothing to fear from our reporting them in the newspaper.

Of course, that prolific lawyers like Coon haven't been seen as locally topical in the past isn't lost on us, as we establish our "beat" here at the Southeast Texas Record. At the civil courts in Beaumont, the press box isn't well-worn, which explains why so many among us only know Mr. Coon not as a lawyer but as a music promoter, rock guitarist or real estate developer.

Coon's reaction to our first edition-- asking a judge to let him summon and grill our journalists-- seems an obvious indication that he prefers things that way.

Thankfully, the First Amendment says that it isn't his decision. Our courts aren't invite-only. "Milling" and "mingling" are not prohibited. The courthouse doesn't belong to the lawyers; it belongs to the people.

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