Try, Try Again

Back to the appeals court

Back in the last century, when Buzz was in college learning all the important things an aspiring newspaper person needs to know--how to glom onto free drinks and food, how to type, how to slyly spread the hidden liberal agenda of the media elite--we were hired to help edit the opinion page for the university newspaper. Often what we wrote offended someone (imagine that!), so we developed a method for dealing with upset readers. "Oh, well," we'd say. "You can't please everyone." Then we'd write some more. Or maybe go out for a beer. Or both.

We considered that a fine editorial philosophy then, but it turns out that the lessons learned at the Illinois Trade School for Aspiring Hacks--a.k.a. Southern Illinois University--may not play that well in real life, especially in Texas. Some folks here just don't appreciate a refined sense of humor. Unfortunately, some of them are appeals court judges.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying this: The 2nd District Court of Appeals late last month for the second time rejected the Dallas Observer's effort to win the dismissal of a libel suit brought by Denton County District Attorney Bruce Isaacks and Judge Darlene Whitten.

And a merry Christmas to you, too.

Isaacks and Whitten were the subjects of a parody intended to criticize their actions in the case of Christopher Beamon, a 13-year-old Ponder boy ordered jailed by Whitten in 1999 because of a school essay he wrote for Halloween that depicted the shooting of a teacher and two students. Observer staffer Rose Farley thought putting Beamon in jail was a dumb thing to do, so she wrote a humorous story that had Whitten and Isaacks sending a 6-year-old girl off to the pokey for writing a book report about Where the Wild Things Are ("Stop the Madness," November 11, 1999). We used made-up quotes and mixed in a little fact with our fiction. You know, satire.

Well, we thought it was funny. Maybe you had to be there. Whitten and Isaacks weren't there and weren't laughing. They sued. The appeals court judges weren't there either and in May rejected the Observer's appeal of a rejected motion seeking summary judgment. We appealed that decision and were poured out of court again. The appeals court in late November ruled that since it was possible that a reasonable reader might construe the parody as being a true honest-to-God story, even though we intended it as satire, the case should go to trial.

Just not funny enough--the story of Buzz's life, we suppose.

So here we are now, three years later, readying what likely will be an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. We're feeling pretty confident about our chances. We hear the Supreme Court justices are not only reasonable, but extremely good-looking, kind and generous. Regular paragons of virtue. And we're not just saying that because our lawyer told us to.

 
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