Court Sides With Lawyer Tainted by Porn Claims

     (CN) – A college professor defamed the school’s lawyer by going on a local radio show to discuss confidential allegations of sexual misconduct made by a disgruntled employee, a state appeals court affirmed.
     Michael Westergren was the in-house counsel of Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, and formerly served as a state judge in Nueces County.
     He filed suit after Del Mar history professor Bruce Olson related confidential allegations of sexual misconduct against Westergren on a local radio talk show.
     A jury found that Olson committed defamation by making the false statement that Westergren had problems with pornography. Olson had said Westergren exposed former Del Mar employee Theresa Cox and “another senior female administrator” to pornography in the workplace, according to the court.
     At trial, Westergren showed that Cox made the sexual-misconduct allegations with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Del Mar and an outside law firm had investigated and rejected her prior claims of retaliation.
     Olson testified that administrators left a copy of Cox’s discrimination charge in a meeting room, and that a janitor retrieved the document and circulated it to faculty. Though Olson knew that the document was confidential, that the outside law firm had cleared Westergren of wrongdoing, and that Cox never alleged sexual misconduct in her previous complaints, he shared the allegations with radio listeners.
     The 13th District Texas Court of Appeals said this was enough for a jury to hold Olson liable for defamation. It also upheld the jury’s award of $20,000 for damage to his reputation.
     “Thus, considering the factual record in full, we conclude that the circumstances leading up to Olson’s on-air statements in combination with Olson’s failure to investigate the allegations were sufficient evidence from which the jury could form a firm belief or conviction that Olson acted with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of Cox’s allegations against Westergren,” Justice Nelda Rodriguez wrote for the court. “We conclude that the evidence was therefore clear and convincing and supported the jury’s actual malice finding.”

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