By Mikela Rodriguez
The Texans for Citizen Participation Act, spearheaded by Austin attorney Laura Prather and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in June is a strong tool for Texas journalists as well as a victory for First Amendment rights.
The fairly new legislation curbs businesses and private individuals from filing strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which can drain publications of monetary resources.
The statute endows Texas judges the power to strike down frivolous lawsuits against a journalist, or anyone who speaks “on a matter of public concern” and is within their First Amendment boundaries.
Prather said if the judge acknowledges the libel lawsuit as frivolous, the plaintiff is required to pay back the defendant’s legal fees.
“Five years from now, you’ll see fewer libel lawsuits in Texas,” Prather said.
Prather outlined the need for journalism students to be familiar with their rights and familiar with journalist’s privilege, which gives them freedom from testifying about confidential sources in court.
Prather said many libel suits against journalists arise from “bystander” sources, or sources who are not the main focus of a story.
“People feel like they’re targeted, and it may just be one line of text that they get upset about,” she said.
The Better Business Bureau of Austin successfully used the anti-SLAPP statute to dismiss a libel case in July.