Custody of postings, broadcasts topic of hearing in Gillam defamation suit

By Marilyn Tennissen | Apr 23, 2007

Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Tom Gillam III was surrounded by friends and family after a recent hearing regarding a defamation lawsuit he filed against a local political commentator.

Amid talk of sex, lies and videotapes, a case involving a justice of the peace and a political commentator took another step forward this week with a hearing regarding custody of Web postings and radio broadcasts.

Jefferson County Precinct 8 JP Tom Gillam III filed a defamation suit against Philip Klein and Klein Investments on April 10, claiming Klein made libelous statements about him on a Web site and radio talk show. On the same day, Gillam's lawyers, Brent Coon and Gerald Eddins, filed a temporary restraining order and injunction against Klein and the radio station regarding the postings and broadcasts. The TRO was assigned to 58th District Court Judge Bob Wortham.

The defamation suit stems from a story Klein posted on March 27, and later became a talk radio topic, that an employee walked in on Gillam engaging in sexual activity with a woman in his office at the Jefferson County Sub-Courthouse in Port Arthur. Klein's anonymous source told him that the employee then ran out of the courthouse, slamming a glass door that shattered behind her as she left.

Gillam denies the story as an outrageous lie and says he has been subjected to public contempt and ridicule since Klein's publication.

The temporary restraining order was filed by the plaintiff to prevent the Internet, broadcast material and a surveillance tape from the sub-courthouse from being altered or deleted.

On April 23, 58th District Court Judge Bob Wortham's first step at a hearing was to consolidate the defamation suit and the TRO/injunction to his court. The original suit had been assigned by random rotation to the 172nd District Court of Judge Donald Floyd.

Matters soon moved on to the subject of the tapes and Internet records.

In the injunction, the plaintiff asked for all recordings and on air comments made by Klein or Ronnie Linden, another talk show host and all material posted on the Web site, including each and every page within the site as well as links, from Jan. 1, 2006, to the present.

Attorney Mitch Templeton, representing KOLE radio, objected to the scope of the injunction, saying that the station's digital backup system rewrote itself automatically every 30 days. Templeton said he could easily submit the broadcasts made in the weeks following Klein's posting of the Internet story near the end of March, but tapes further back than that did not exist.

But Eddins said he still wanted the defendant to submit any recording from any date, since he had no way of knowing if there were other statements in the past made by the defendants that could be pertinent to the charges of defamation.

Templeton said he feared that the plaintiff's lawyers were simply on a "fishing expedition."

When Eddins said Klein had mentioned "tapes" at one time, Wortham said the defendants had until Friday, April 27, to submit all pertinent video and audio to his court.

Assistant District Attorney Tom Rugg, representing Jefferson County, turned over the original surveillance tape that deals with the broken glass door at the sub-courthouse. Wortham decided the court would keep the original tape and that parties would be able to purchase copies.

When Eddins said he also wanted any recordings of telephone calls and copies of all e-mails that Klein has, Klein's attorneys objected, citing the First Amendment rights of Klein and the people that had called or e-mailed him.

At that point, Wortham concluded the hearing and ordered counsel to the jury room to work out the specifics of the restraining order by the end of the day.

The case could go to trial in November or December.

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