Vol 33, Issue 15 Print Issue

Texas Supreme Court Rules on AgendaWise Cases

Texas Supreme Court Building
Texas Supreme Court Building

A legal fight dating back to a 2012 Jim Landtroop fundraiser appeared settled last Friday, when the Texas Supreme Court ruled in two separate cases related to whether Salem Abraham could sue for libel over a post written on AgendaWise, a site linked to oilman Tim Dunn’s Empower Texans network.

Abraham had brought forth both lawsuits over a post on AgendaWise regarding Abraham’s appearance at a Landtroop fundraiser. (One of the opinions covers the back and forth between Abraham and Greer over the post which led to the lawsuit.)

In the cases, a key issue was whether Abraham, a member of a local school board, could claim there was actual malice in the post's characterization of his actions.

“Because we conclude actual malice was an element of the public official’s defamation claim, we reverse and remand to the court of appeals for it to consider other issues raised by the official, but not addressed by the court,” one of the opinions reads.

Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan touted the rulings as a major free speech victory.


“Today's opinions further secure the First Amendment rights of Texans to be free to speak out about the conduct of public officials without fear of being litigated into bankruptcy,” Sullivan said in a statement.


Battleground Texas, which has drawn flak from some Democrats for its approach to minority outreach, announced last week the launch of an effort to engage more Latinos in the electoral process. The Movimiento Texas campaign will kick off next month with a “statewide Latino organizing training,” according to the group’s announcement.

“Growing up in El Paso, there weren't many people talking about voting with Latino families like mine,” said Oscar Silva, Battleground Texas Political Director. “That's why Movimiento Texas is so important — we are doubling down on our mission to reach every Texan in the conversation and flip the script on voter registration and engagement in our communities."


State Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, still has concerns about her narrow defeat to primary challenger Hugh Shine.

Last Wednesday, White emailed supporters a recent article in the Christian Reporter News that chronicled problems voters had in Bell County. After a recount last month, Shine was declared the winner of the election by 104 votes.

In a brief phone interview, White said the story's findings were concerning but conceded there is not much she can do at this point.


"There are a lot of questions raised by the story," she said. "What can be done at this late time? I don't know."
"I'm feeling it's kind of late but I just thought it was something that the voters — most voters — need to know," she added. 


Five members of Austin's City Council gathered outside of Austin City Hall on Tuesday to accuse a group funded by Uber and Lyft for putting out deceptive ads aimed at encouraging voters to support an upcoming ballot initiative that will determine how the city regulate those companies.

"Please take time to study this issue," Austin Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said at the press conference. "Please don't be misled by skewed TV commercials and a multi-million-dollar advertising budget from corporations that want to regulate themselves."

Tovo was joined by council members Ora Houston, Delia Garza, Sabino Renteria and Ann Kitchen, all of whom urged voters to reject the ballot initiative that would rescind the ordinance approved by the council requiring drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft to undergo fingerprint-based background checks.

The council members expressed concern that advertising efforts by Ridesharing Works for Austin in support of the proposition were potentially misleading the public. They pointed as an example to ads from the group that assert that Prop 1 would "require Uber and Lyft to keep doing criminal background checks." The language brings up a false implication, they argued, that Prop 1's failure would mean Uber and Lyft drivers would stop undergoing background checks altogether.

Travis Considine, Ridesharing Works for Austin's spokesman, said city officials are the real source of confusion.

"Nothing is more misleading than the ballot language crafted by the city council, which is a powerful example of voter misinformation," Considine said. "It is because the ballot language was crafted to be misleading to voters that the vote for Prop. 1 campaign is necessary at all.'"

Uber has resisted fingerprint background check requirements in other cities across the state, ceasing operations in Galveston, Midland and Corpus Christi after measures requiring similar background checks. Uber continues to operate in Houston, where the city council has insisted on fingerprint-based checks.

Disclosure: Uber and Lyft are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.