Marino’s Legal News: Attorney Press Releases Can Be Subject To Defamation Suit

In an important decision for all attorneys (especially those who talk to the media on a regular basis) The Texas Supreme Court has just ruled attorney statements made in a press release or social media context are not entitled to the protection of the judicial proceedings privilege or attorney immunity.

A defamation suit was filed by Landry’s Inc., owner of the Downtown Aquarium in Houston, Texas, where white Bengal tigers are housed. Landry’s sued the Animal Legal Defense Fund for publicizing its notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act in a press release that criticized the living conditions of the tigers.

The judicial proceedings privilege generally protects statements made in open court, depositions and affidavits, but the Court held that press releases related to a case are not among these protected vehicles.

“Statements to the media, by definition, are not made within a judicial proceeding,” the supreme court said.

Attorney immunity is a specific privilege that protects lawyers from liability to nonclients. The privilege attaches when lawyers act on behalf of their clients in a “uniquely lawyerly capacity,” and public statements are not covered by the privilege because they can be made by anyone, including press agents and spokespeople, the Texas Supreme Court said.

The case was sent back to the appeals court to determine whether Landry’s had established its defamation claims.

You can find more details about the case here.

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