(CN) – A Texas woman committed slander when she said the mayor was plotting to have her killed, a state appeals court ruled.
Norberto Salinas, the mayor of Mission, Texas, and former mayor Pat Townsend sued Ester Salinas for slander over comments she made while challenging the city’s response to toxic-chemical contamination in her neighborhood.
Ester Salinas spent a decade researching the area surrounding the Hayes-Sammons pesticide plant, a Superfund site. She found that hundreds of children in the area were stillborn, while many others were born with birth defects.
While Townsend was city manager in 2000, he ordered the site to be tested by a toxicologist Ester Salinas recommended, and he obtained council’s permission to have a second expert do additional testing. Townsend said Ester Salinas “wasn’t happy” with the decision to hire a second toxicologist.
At a 2003 Mission city council meeting, Ester Salinas said Townsend “was instrumental in inflicting human suffer[ing] and severe property damage.”
Two years later at another council meeting, Ester Salinas said, “Justice Day will come and some of you will be judged for the way you have stolen and lied and killed.”
In a televised interview in 2008, Ester Salinas said, “So we have to go to court to fight because even the mayor in La Joya told me that Norberto Salinas went to talk to him to say that they were going to kill me.”
Mission residents also testified that Ester Salinas called Norberto Salinas, the mayor, a drug dealer and politically corrupt.
The trial court ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor, awarding $10,000 to Townsend and $30,000 to Norberto Salinas.
Texas’ 13th district appeals court in Corpus Christi mostly upheld the ruling, but found that the statements about Townsend were not actually slanderous.
“Public officials, particularly those in policymaking positions such as mayor, are prone to receiving hyperbolic criticism precisely because of the power they wield,” Justice Dori Contreras Garza wrote for the court. “Our only concern is whether her remarks would be reasonably understood by an ordinary listener as having charged Townsend with criminal behavior. They would not.”
After dismissing the $10,000 award to Townsend, Garza and the court affirmed the remaining slander claims.