By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
For the second time this month, the Texas Supreme Court, that oh-so-wise crew of legal geniuses, has handed the Dallas Observer a victory in a libel case.
Hey, it's good to know that some government agencies work, and we mean that sincerely, without bias.
On September 10, the Supreme Court declined to review a decision by a three-judge panel of the 5th District Court of Appeals that granted the Observer summary judgment in a suit filed by Dallas restaurateur Dale Wamstad. Since the 5th District judges had sided with us, dismissing the suit without a trial, and the Supremes declined to take up the case, that means we won, barring further appeal by Wamstad.
The victory follows a Supreme Court ruling in the Observer's favor earlier this month in a separate case brought by Denton County officials concerning a parody we published that skewered their decision to jail a 13-year-old boy over a homework assignment. (A bit of bragging: Buzz had the honor of being named and quoted in that Supreme Court opinion. "Crude," "provocative" and "bad taste" were some of the words thrown our way. Mom'll be so proud.)
In the latest case, Wamstad sued over a March 16, 2000, story by staff writer Mark Stuertz headlined "Family Man." The story detailed Wamstad's history of disgruntled ex-business partners and turbulent former family life--turbulent as in his previous wife shot him in New Orleans.
The 5th Court judges had ruled that Wamstad, a flamboyant promoter of his restaurants, which at one time included Del Frisco's steak house, was a public figure. That meant Wamstad would have to prove that we published statements we knew were false or showed reckless disregard for whether they were true or not.
We didn't do either, of course. Stuertz carefully corroborated and sourced his story. He's a pro that way, unlike those hacks at The Dallas Morning News, which reported this week that Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister failed to recuse himself from a case "in which one of the law firms involved was handling legal matters for his election campaign." Now, we've never talked with the honorable and extremely wise and studly Brister--don't know anything about him--but for some reason we just feel in our gut that story was wildly unfair. Call it a hunch. A completely unbiased hunch.