BEAUMONT - Attorney Wayne Reaud, along with several others, have been dismissed from a $22 million lawsuit, brought by a local electrician alleging the defendants committed acts that cost him a business contract with the Beaumont Independent School District.
In court papers filed July 16 in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas, Calvin Gary Walker, the proprietor of Walker’s Electric, alleged that the defendants worked to end his professional relationship with BISD, insinuating the respondents wrongfully made light of his 2011 federal indictment for fraud.
Some of the other defendants named in the suit included Reaud’s newspaper, the Beaumont Examiner and editor Don Dodd, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, attorney Michael Getz and SETINVESTIGATES.COM editor Jerry Jordan.
Court records show all of the defendants in the suit filed respective motions to dismiss.
Reaud and his paper filed theirs on Oct. 23, citing the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which strengthens the right to free speech by eliminating baseless defamation suits.
Walker’s claims against the Beaumont attorney and his paper were based on two articles published in The Examiner.
“Walker’s defamation claims based on these articles are frivolous, and his other claims relating to these articles also fail,” the motion states.
Court records show that case’s presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone, referred the matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Giblin, who recommended Crone grant the defendants’ motions to dismiss.
On Feb. 11 Crone adopted Giblin’s report and recommendation, overruling Walker’s objections and dismissing his claims against Reaud, Jordan and Getz.
Jordan issued the following response:
"Obviously, I felt like this was a bogus case from the beginning, so it is a huge relief that both Judge Marcia Crone and U.S. Magistrate Keith Giblin ruled in the manner which they did. I know my reporting in this matter was solid and I never wavered on that fact. It was a huge risk to represent myself but I didn't have a choice because of the financial burden of being sued was daunting. Thanks to everyone who helped me decipher the legal maze of the federal court system and thank you to everyone, who supported me in defending myself against the frivolous claims by Calvin Walker and Jessie Haynes. I believe there will be a sanctions hearing that will allow the defendants to recoup some of their expenses. It is my hope that I may recover some of my own personal costs but, more importantly, I would like an apology for the scurrilous allegations made against me in this lawsuit. The ruling is a huge vindication for investigative journalism and protecting the freedom of the press."
The other defendants named in the case are BISD employees Aaron Covington, Leroy Saleme, Vernon Butler, Jane Kingsley, and Terry Ingram; BISD Board of Trustees members Michael “Mike” Neil and Tom Neild; BISD Board of Managers members Venice Monroe, A.B. Bernard, Jimmy Simmons, Robert Turner, Joe Domino, Lenny Cabarello, and Jack Carroll; Jennifer Johnson; Beaumont Enterprise employee Brooke Crum; IBEW Local Union 479; IBEW 479 members Steven Lisle, Dwayne Hermann, Chris Kibby, and David Gonzales; Beaumont; Jefferson County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Cory Crenshaw; United States Attorney Malcolm Bales; and Watchdog.org writer Jon Cassidy.
The suit states that Walker contracted with BISD to perform electrical work from 2006 to 2008. Walker succeeded IBEW 479, which previously had member companies offer the school district services for 37 years, in securing the agreement to provide with electrical maintenance and repair services.
IBEW 479 invited the plaintiff to join the organization prior to when he started working for the BISD to which he declined, the suit says. Walker states IBEW and IBEW 479 threatened they would “get him one way or another.”
“IBEW, through its local union IBEW 479 and its members, subjected Walker to repercussions as punishment for his failure to join the union,” the suit says. “Such repercussions included defamation, interference with prospective contracts, interference with current contracts, and interference with Mr. Walker’s lawful business activities.”
An investigation conducted by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation into how Walker obtained his Master Electrician License at IBEW 479’s request took place and ended with the plaintiff agreeing to a fine and the relinquishment of his license with the understanding he would be able to immediately get it back without taking the test and using the same hours he had already earned for his old license. Though the complainant regained his license, the suit says, the events surrounding the TDLR’s investigation were used and re-used to harm his reputation.
The BISD Board of Trustees regularly discussed Walker during his stint and reportedly heard negative remarks about him from a few board members. Walker’s contract then expired in 2008, but he was intentionally left out of the bidding process, the suit says.
According to the suit, the school district soon allowed the complainant to submit a bid, however, he was the sole bidder required to turn over proper documentation. The complaint perceives the requisite as racist since the aforementioned contract eventually went to a white union electrical contractor who was purportedly not mandated to submit invoices and receipts.
Walker then became the focus of a 2011 federal indictment for fraud. Faced with 37 counts, he consented to a plea deal from the federal government and agreed to repay his supposedly late taxes.
The suit asserts BISD, its employees, its board of trustees, and The Beaumont Examiner engaged in a smear campaign against Walker. The defendants claimed that the plaintiff was found guilty of defrauding the school district and agreeing to pay back “the money he stole,” neither of which is true, the suit states.
In addition to The Beaumont Examiner, court documents say, the respondents “used their allies” in the Beaumont media – namely the Beaumont Enterprise, SETInvestigates.com and Watchdog.com – to defame Walker.
The original petition charged The Beaumont Examiner is involved because of its owner, Reaud.
“This is not surprising given that defendant Wayne Reaud owns and/or controls the Beaumont Examiner, has represented IBEW 479, and is defendant (Jefferson County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Cory) Crenshaw’s godfather,” it says. “Defendant Reaud relied on Don Dodd, a Beaumont Examiner employee, to publish stories furthering the goals of the Conspiracy as to Mr. Walker.”
The suit adds that a “joint task force” was allegedly created at the start of 2014 for the sole purpose of investigating and indicting Walker though the plaintiff was acquitted two years earlier. Walker, whom the States of Texas filed a case against more than a year ago, believes Reaud lent a hand to the prosecution.
Attorney Maria-Vittoria “Giugi” Carminati of the law firm Carminati Law PLLC in Houston is representing the complainant.
Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas Case No. 2:15-CV-1283