Defamation Claim Against Paper Survives

     (CN) – A Texas newspaper publisher must continue to fight a defamation claim brought by four men who were named in a campaign ad that accused the incumbent district attorney of being soft on sex offenders, a state appeals court ruled.

     The 13th District Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi ruled that the trial court was correct in denying Freedom Communication’s motion to dismiss the claim.
     Peter Zavaletta took out a full-page campaign advertisement, which appeared in the Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star (both published by Freedom) before the March 2008 Democratic primary election in which he faced Armando Villalobos, the incumbent Cameron County District Attorney.
     The headline of the ad stated: “Armando Villalobos Is Against Our Children.” The ad included a chart of 103 cases of accusations of physical and sexual abuse of children in 2007. Many of these cases were “declined at intake,” according to the advertisement.
     Four of the 103 people named in the advertisement (Juan Antonio Coronado, Ruben Contreras, Francisco Solis Ramirez, and Roberto Rivera III) sued the newspaper company for defamation and invasion of privacy.
     While the advertisement’s point was to show that Villalobos “stood against children,” it failed to mention why the 103 suspects were not convicted.
     Examining the source material more closely, the appeals court found that the four plaintiffs were not convicted due to insufficient evidence.
     Judge Garza ruled that the case must continue because the advertisement was not an accurate representation of all of the cases under Villalobos’ watch.
     “The Case Disposition Report reflected that the District Attorney’s office had actually disposed of 137 child-related cases in 2007, many of which eventually resulted in the suspect’s conviction and incarceration,” Garza wrote.
     “Because of these ambiguities, we cannot say that Freedom established as a matter of law that the advertisement was a substantially correct account of the Case Disposition Report.”

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