Film and TV

"A Great Day for the First Amendment": Appeals Court Tosses HP Developer's Defamation Claims

At this late date I won't detail the case pitting Highland Park developer Hiram Walker Royall against author Carla Main, which we've been following for the past three years. Let's just put it like this: Royall, who was involved in an eminent domain case down in Freeport, became the subject of Main's gripping tome Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. Royall didn't like that and sued Main for defamation -- and not only did he go after Main, but also the publisher, a law prof who offered a nice book-jacket blurb and a critic who praised the nonfiction thriller.

Long legal story short, in '09 a Dallas trial court sided with Royall and said Main and her publisher, Encounter Books, weren't covered by that silly ol' First Amendment. At which point the Institute for Justice helped take the defamation suit to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in September; the justices rendered their decision late yesterday.

You can read Justice Elizabeth Lang-Miers's 28-page opinion here; she recaps this legal matter better than I -- and it's quite a good book report to boot. But far as the appeals court's concerned, Royall didn't offer "a scintilla of evidence" proving that the book defamed him in any way. Oh -- and Main's a member of the print media too, in case you couldn't tell. So it's back to trial court, with Royall taking nothing for now and his case suddenly that much harder to make.

Which tickles Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice handling the case: "Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics. The appeals court has exposed the frivolity of Royall's lawsuit, holding that Royall failed to prove that a single word of Bulldozed defames him." To which Main adds, in a statement, "This is a great day for the First Amendment and obviously, a great day in my life."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky