Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Newspaper in the Hot Seat for Article on Lawyer

(CN) - A Texas lawyer can sue a newspaper publisher for libel in connection with an article that claimed she skimmed 10 percent of the profits from an Indian casino, a Texas appeals court ruled.

Gloria Hernandez sued ZYZY Corp., which publishes the Eagle Pass News-Guide, for its coverage of a leadership dispute within the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas.

Hernandez was testifying at the hearing and answered a question on the stand about how much of her legal practice was devoted to work for the tribe. Hernandez stated, "I make roughly 10 percent of my income from the tribe."

The following day, the News-Guide ran an article carrying the subheadline: "Gloria Hernandez admits she's skimming 10 percent of casino profits off the top."

This was no headline writer's error, as the article stated: "The most damning testimony came when Hernandez admitted on the stand that she rakes off a 10 percent share of Lucky Eagle Casino profits for her services to the handful of remaining Kickapoo insurgents."

In addition to the sour implications of the allegation, the article went on to state that such actions violate gaming laws and show that Hernandez is trying to "defraud" the government.

About a year later, Hernandez filed a libel suit against the paper's publisher, which in turn asked the lower court to dismiss the case since it claimed that the statute of limitations had expired and that Hernandez is a public figure.

The trial court ruled in Hernandez's favor, and the state's San Antonio-based Fourth Court of Appeals cleared the way for the lawsuit by affirming that decision on Wednesday.

Writing for the court's three-judge panel, Justice Steven Hilbig ruled that a holiday extended the one-year time limit long enough to allow Hernandez's suit, defeating the paper's statute of limitations defense.

He also wrote that Hernandez did not qualify as a limited-purpose public figure.

"A lawyer representing a client in a very public controversy, but who does not thrust himself into the vortex of the public issue ... does not, by virtue of the legal representation, make himself a public figure," Hilbig wrote.

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