$1.3 Million Anti-SLAPP Award Rescinded

     FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas judge has rescinded a record $1.3 million in anti-SLAPP sanctions and attorneys’ fees in a “revenge porn” defamation lawsuit, granting the plaintiffs a new trial.
     Tarrant County Judge Donald Cosby granted plaintiffs James McGibney and ViaView Inc. a new trial on Feb. 24, concluding their Dec. 30 motion for a new trial “has merit and good cause.”
     Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are filed to attack free speech and other civil rights. Sanctions are mandatory under Texas’ anti-SLAPP law, the Texas Citizens Participation Act of 2011.
     McGibney and ViaView sued 10 people in February 2014, alleging defamation and negligence and accusing defendant Thomas Retzlaff of creating online aliases to stalk and harass ViaView. The plaintiffs said they operate websites that help victims of revenge-porn websites.
     “A complete review of the court’s file shows that plaintiffs’ attorney did request a hearing on defendant’s motion for attorney fees and sanctions and that the court inadvertently overlooked such request when it entered its order granting defendant’s motion,” the one-page order stated. “Plaintiffs are entitled to a hearing as requested and the court’s failure to give them the requested hearing is good cause for this court to grant plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial.”
     The ruling is a reversal from Cosby’s Dec. 30 order that the plaintiffs pay defendant Neal Rauhauser sanctions and attorneys’ fees. At the time, Cosby concluded they sued Rauhauser “willfully and maliciously to injure” and deter him from exercising his constitutional right to “truthfully criticize” McGibney and ViaView.
     “This is the largest anti-SLAPP sanction award in United States history and it is entirely disproportionate to the size of the plaintiffs’ business and the amount of the plaintiffs’ assets,” the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial stated. “By Retzlaff’s own admissions to his daughter these sanctions are grossly disproportionate.”
     Rauhauser disagreed, arguing the sanctions were “necessary to deter plaintiffs’ scorched-earth” tactics.
     “To argue that the court’s sanction is unnecessary to deter plaintiffs from filing similar lawsuits in the future, plaintiffs cynically offer up McGibney’s ‘word’ that he will “never file another defamation suit in Texas,” his Feb. 2 response stated. “Again, plaintiffs insult the court’s intelligence. McGibney routinely sues Texas residents for defamation in other states.”
     Crosby’s granting of a new trial reverses his original order for the plaintiffs to turn over several domain names, including nearlrauhauser.com, nealrauhauser.exposed and rauhauserunmasked.com. It also halts an order for the plaintiffs to “publish for 365 consecutive days a written apology on the first page of all websites owned by either plaintiff for calling Rauhauser a ‘woman beater’ and ‘pedophile supporter’ and admitting that plaintiffs had no evidence to support such accusations when they made them.”
     ViaView said Monday that is is “grateful” Cosby ordered a new trial and is “confident that justice and equity will be adequately served.”
     Rauhauser’s attorney, Jeffrey Dorrell with Hanszen Laporte in Houston, said “we are confident that the mandatory Texas Citizens Participation Act sanctions and attorney’s fees ordered by the court of appeals and awarded on Dec. 30, 2015, will be reinstated” by Cosby at a March 10 rehearing on Rauhauser’s motion for sanctions and attorneys’ fees.
     “Nothing has changed,” Dorrell said Monday.

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