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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Cop’s ‘Thin Skin’ Doesn’t Negate Libel Injury

(CN) - An accused drunken driver cannot upend defamation findings by arguing that the police officer he maligned online "should have thicker skin," an appeals court ruled.

Eric Bruss, a police officer in Santa Fe, Texas, arrested Michael Aldous for driving while intoxicated in February 2008. Later in the year, a different officer arrested Aldous' father, Warren, for a traffic offense.

Michael Aldous then made false statements online about Bruss' professional reputation, leading Bruss to sue for slander per se. Bruss also said Michael Aldous falsely accused him of crimes, which led to shame, embarrassment and humiliation. He later amended his petition to add defamation claims against Warren Aldous as well.

Bruss testified that the Aldouses also defamed him at Santa Fe City Council meetings and in communications to other law-enforcement groups, including the Texas Rangers.

At trial, Bruss' ex-wife, Sylvia Sandoval, blamed their divorce on the depression and stress that Bruss experienced because of the Aldous' campaign against him.

Eventually a Galveston County judge granted Bruss partial summary judgment against Warren Aldous, and awarded him $150,000 in damages in March 2011.

Michael Aldous, a lawyer, meanwhile represented himself at trial, arguing that Bruss did not prove damages and that he should have "thicker skin."

A jury ultimately awarded Bruss $75,000 in damages based on Michael's statements such as "Eric Bruss is here and he's just sitting here watching," and "Bring me another one of your complaint forms because Bruss stood here and watched the whole thing happen and didn't do a thing about it."

While Michael Aldous appealed the denial of a mistrial or a new trial, his father appealed the verdict against him.

The Houston-based 14th Texas Court of Appeals affirmed both verdicts Thursday.

Michael did not preserve his argument that his statements were privileged for appeal, according to the ruling.

Michael also failed to make a convincing argument that he had sufficient evidence to warrant a new trial, the court found.

"Not only did he fail to provide the trial court with anything more than mere allegations rather than any evidence, he neglects to identify his new evidence on appeal," Justice Adele Hedges wrote for a three-member panel.

Warren meanwhile failed to prove that the $150,000 judgment against him was excessive and that he was entitled to a new trial, according to the ruling.

"After reviewing the evidence presented in this case, we conclude that reasonable and fair-minded people could determine that $150,000 would be a sufficient amount to compensate Bruss for his injury to his reputation caused by Warren's defamatory statements," Hedges wrote.

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