Defamation suit against Texas man dismissed under state anti-SLAPP law

Lilly Chapa | Libel | News | February 12, 2013

A vocal Jacinto City, Texas citizen cannot be sued for defamation after repeatedly accusing a police officer of corruption and calling for his firing during city council meetings, a judge ruled Monday, relying on a state anti-SLAPP statute.

Harris County District Judge Elaine Palmer threw out the defamation suit three days after a hearing explored whether Jacinto City Police Sgt. Dennis Walker could sue resident Larry Schion.

Schion’s attorney Mike Fleming said the case was dismissed under the Texas Citizen Participation Act, an anti-SLAPP statute passed in 2011. The acronym "SLAPP" is short for "strategic lawsuits against public participation," and the law is intended to quickly dispose of frivolous cases filed to silence critics exercising their speech rights.

In October, Walker filed a defamation suit against Schion, who accused him of stealing from a vending machine and using his patrol car for personal use, among other allegations. According to Fleming, Schion is an active citizen who has long been involved in local government affairs and has a First Amendment right to express his concerns.

“Mr. Schion is the kind of guy that if he has a concern about the way the government in the city is being run he expresses it,” Fleming said. “He’s done that for years and years, and he was pretty taken aback when he was served with the lawsuit.”

Fleming said the new statute worked exactly as intended.

“The purpose of [the statute] is so that people like Larry don’t have to spend tremendous amounts of money defending themselves over a lawsuit that’s brought solely because they exercised their First Amendment rights,” Fleming said.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have anti-SLAPP statutes to protect citizens from lawsuits intended to silence critics.