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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Justices back trial court’s judgment in defamation case against KRPC-TV

State Court

By Carrie Bradon | Jul 18, 2019

Firstcourt

HOUSTON — An appeals court judge has sided with a trial court’s judgment regarding the alleged defamation of a man by a Houston television station.

Eric Lynn Baumgart filed an appeal in the Court of Appeals First District of Texas against Phillip Douglas Archer, KRPC-TV Channel 2, Graham Media Group,Houston Inc., and Graham Holdings Company, alleging he was defamed by the defendants and labeled as an assassin in a shooting incident. 

Baumgart alleges the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) does not protect Graham Media’s defamatory speech and that he made a prima facie showing of defamation and that the trial court’s refusal to allow discovery before dismissing his allegetions violated Texas’s due-process guarantee of open courts and that a jury trial on the reasonableness of Graham Media’s attorney’s fees was constitutionally required.

However, Justice Sarah Beth Landau ruled June 27 that the trial court properly dismissed the plaintiff’s legal action, as Baumgart failed to meet his burden to establish clear and specific evidence. Landau also declined to hold that either the TCPA or any subpart at issue in this appeal is unconstitutional because those questions have not been preserved for review. Thus, Baumgart’s issues are overruled and the trial court’s judgment is affirmed.

According to court documents, Baumgart was a reserve officer with Liberty County Constable’s Office and an investigator with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office when he was charged with tampering with a governmental record. The plaintiff pleaded not guilty but was convicted on all charges by the jury. All but one charge was affirmed on appellate review. 

The plaintiff began to serve a 90-day sentence in January 2017 and was incarcerated when assistant chief deputy Clint Greenwood was shot and killed outside a courthouse in Baytown. 

The plaintiff complains that he was identified as the assassin of Greenwood, which he alleges is not true. The plaintiff sued Graham Media, pleading causes of action for defamation and negligence. The defendant moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit under TCPA, which Baumgart opposed. A trial court issued an order granting the defendant’s motion and dismissing all of Baumgart’s claims.

“We conclude Graham Media met its initial burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Baumgart’s legal action is based on, relates to, or is in response to its exercise of the right of free speech, as defined in the TCPA,” the appeals court ruled. “Because Baumgart failed to meet his burden to establish clear and specific evidence of a prima facie case for each essential element of his defamation claim, the trial court properly dismissed Baumgart’s legal action. We decline to hold that either the TCPA or any subpart at issue in this appeal is unconstitutional because those questions have not been preserved for our review. Accordingly, we overrule Baumgart’s appellate issues and affirm the trial court’s judgment.”

Court of Appeals First District of Texas case number 01-18-00298-CV

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