School Board Member Can Sue Blog Over Post
(CN) - A Texas school board member who asked a question at a campaign event can sue for libel after a blog described him as being "forcibly removed" from the event for "heckling," a state appeals court ruled.
Salem Abraham was a school board member who went to the Honeycomb Pie Shop for Jim Landtroop's campaign event. Landtroop was running for state representative, but Abraham backed fellow school board member Ken King in the race.
When the moderator asked for questions, Abraham said he wanted to ask Landtroop about his purportedly false comments regarding the school district's tax rates.
The moderator ended the meeting, stating that Abraham's question should be saved for another day. One of Landtroop's consultants asked Abraham to leave the building, and he did.
An Internet blog called AgendaWise wrote about these happenings, stating that Abraham "had to be forcibly removed from the Landtroop event by Gov. (Rick) Perry's (Department of Public Safety) detail."
Abraham contacted AgendaWise and stated that he was not forcibly removed from the meeting. The blog amended the article as follows: "Abraham was asked to leave a Landtroop campaign event this week for heckling. Mr. Abraham complied."
Once again, Abraham objected, stating that he wasn't "heckling" at the event. The blog did not mention that Abraham was a school board member.
Abraham sued Daniel Greer and the Fix the Facts Foundation, doing business as AgendaWise, for libel. The trial court found that the blog's statements were "false, and without foundation," but still dismissed the case.
The court reasoned that Abraham, as an elected official, was required to prove that AgendaWise acted with malice.
However, the Amarillo-based Seventh Texas Court of Appeals reversed the decision in an opinion written by Chief Justice Brian Quinn.
The appeals court ruled that the trial court should not have required Abraham to prove that AgendaWise published the statements with malice.
"AgendaWise's article here said nothing about the defamed individual's status as an elected official or his performance of any duty arising from such status," he wrote.
Noting that the Internet is a global forum, Quinn added that "the defamation was not restricted to (Abraham's) community and no evidence suggests that Abraham was known as a school board member worldwide.
Quinn reversed the dismissal of the case and remanded it to the trial court.
"A public official retains a private life," he stated.