SLAPP Happy: Dallas developer Hiram Walker Royall, outed as a land-grabbing bully, ties up Texas courts with friviolous lawsuits.
By Robert Wilonsky
The Dallas Observer
We've written a few times in recent years about author Carla Main, who remains locked in a legal tussle with Highland Park developer Hiram Walker Royall over Main's '07 book Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land, which chronicles the brouhaha over land grabbed from a family shrimping business in Freeport to make way for a marina development. Royall, at the center of the dust-up, sued not only Main but most anyone who'd ever touched the book, including those who'd reviewed and blurbed the tome that had received little attention till Royall made a case of it in Dallas County District Court.
The case remains alive and well in the Fifth Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments from both sides in September after Judge Carlos Cortez denied Main's request for summary judgment. And yesterday it was very much the center of attention in front of the Texas House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence, where Main appeared in support of House Bill 2973, also known as the Citizen Participation Act, which would "[encourage] public participation by citizens by protecting a person 's right to petition, right of free speech, and right of association from meritless lawsuits arising from actions taken in furtherance of those rights." Combined with Senate Bill 1565, they comprise the state's pending -- and bi-partisan -- anti-SLAPP legislation, which more than half the states already have.
On the other side is Main's testimony offered to the House committee, which was forwarded to Unfair Park by her attorneys at the Institute for Justice's Texas Center in Austin.
My name is Carla Main. I live in New Jersey, and I have traveled to Austin to support the Citizens Participation Act. I am a journalist. Before I became a journalist, I practiced law in New York City for many years. So I come to this issue with an understanding of the legal system as well as the importance of the first amendment and free speech.
I'm interested in this bill because I wrote a book, called Bulldozed, about eminent domain and a small city in East Texas -- Freeport -- and after the book came out I was sued in a Texas court for libel.
Back in 2005, I was writing about eminent domain and following the Kelo case as it made its way to the Supreme Court. I wanted to see how the case would affect American communities and write a book about it. I became aware of a controversy involving eminent domain in Freeport over the building of a marina. A business owner was fighting, with everything he had, against the town he loved. He was fighting the town, his neighbors, and a real estate developer.
The book, Bulldozed, came out in 2007. It was reviewed in newspapers and magazines all over the country. It won a political science writing award.
A year after it was published, I got a call from my publisher, telling me I was being sued by a real estate developer I wrote about in the book. -- and not just me. He was also suing my publisher-- Encounter books -- a small non-profit funded by the Bradley Foundation that publishes serious, intellectual books.
He also sued a professor who wrote a blurb on the back of the book.
But that wasn't all. He also sued a small community newspaper in Galveston and a freelance writer who wrote a review of Bulldozed for that paper.
By suing a small Texas paper and a Texas freelancer, the developer made it impossible for my publisher and me to remove the case to federal court where we could have moved to dismiss the case immediately. That is precisely the type of remedy that would have been available to us if the Citizens Participation Act had been on the books when Encounter and I were sued in 2008. Exactly one week and day after the time ran out to remove, or transfer, the case to federal court, the developer settled out of court with the community newspaper and the reviewer.
The case has now been pending for two and a half years. This case never should have progressed this far -- through discovery and motion practice and now on appeal. I am very fortunate to have pro bono counsel. Nonetheless, the stress and anxiety have taken an enormous toll on my emotionally and physically.
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