A new lawsuit in Texas could have a devastating impact on free speech in America. Mike Papantonio & Farron Cousins discuss more.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio: A new lawsuit in Texas could have a devastating impact on the free speech in America. Interesting case. It has to do with SLAPP suits. Lay it out for us a little bit.

Farron Cousins: Yeah. So what happened is you had Beto O’Rourke who was running for governor in Texas, didn’t win, obviously lost by a lot. But during the course of the campaign, he called out Kelcy Warren, who was a natural gas billionaire with Energy Transfer Partners. And he talked about the fact that there’s these laws in Texas after the energy grid failure that exempted natural gas companies from being able or having to winterize their systems. After that came out, Warren of course gave Greg Abbott a huge political donation. And O’Rourke comes out and says, this is bribery. That statement that this is bribery.

Mike Papantonio: Mm-hmm.

Farron Cousins: Is what is getting him sued now for defamation. And it, it’s a fine line. I mean, I gotta say, when you read the details of this, not that I believe that Warren truly suffered, as they say, you know, mental anguish over the claims, but the language he chose to use, eh, it’s iffy.

Mike Papantonio: It’s, it is, it’s very much on the line. I looked at this case and they might, he, he might win this case.

Farron Cousins: Yeah. I, I assure as hell don’t wanna side with him, but.

Mike Papantonio: I know, but, but the, the language O’Rourke used.

Farron Cousins: Was irresponsible.

Mike Papantonio: First of all, the question is, is this a public figure? Okay. That’s, you have to get past the threshold.

Farron Cousins: Yeah.

Mike Papantonio: Is this is a private figure or a pub, a public figure because that changes the standard, the way we evaluate this case. I, you know, it’s a tough call. This guy could be a public figure because there was so much publicity about him giving a million dollars to Abbott. Abbott got, that was his, that was Abbott’s biggest money coming from this guy. Second, could he be a public figure because there was so much publicity about the fact that Abbott had been instrumental on changing, on trying to change the SLAPP law to where it’s easier for a corporation to bring a case, you know, to bring a lawsuit against people like O’Rourke. Uh, you know, this is 50 50 chance. I, I think I, I think this guy could lose this case. I think, I think O’Rourke really is, is maybe in trouble here.

Farron Cousins: Well, and.

Mike Papantonio: Because the language, not because, not because, not because it’s not right. Because, you know, politicians should be able to say what, what’s on their mind.

Farron Cousins: Yeah. And, and see that, that’s the problem. Because the, the results of this lawsuit would not only affect O’Rourke. I mean, he’s, it’s a million dollar lawsuit. So that’s really not that big of a deal. And to me, that low sum kind of shows that this isn’t about the money.

Mike Papantonio: Exactly.

Farron Cousins: This is about proving a point.

Mike Papantonio: Exactly.

Farron Cousins: And that point would have this massive chilling effect. I mean.

Mike Papantonio: Yes.

Farron Cousins:We, we’ve done plenty of segments where we talk about the money that corporations are giving to politicians, and we call them out for it.

Mike Papantonio: Mm-hmm.

Farron Cousins: But when you suggest that doing so is illegal, which it is not, unfortunately, should be, but it’s not. If you say that they did something illegal, which the word bribery has that, you know, connotation of an illegal transfer of money for a favor.

Mike Papantonio: Well, there.

Farron Cousins: That crosses the line.

Mike Papantonio: There’s slander liable, per se. One is you’ve committed a, you’ve committed a crime. One has to do with your some kind of perversion of sex. There’s, there’s about four areas where you simply can’t, you can’t go there.

Farron Cousins: Yeah.

Mike Papantonio: Okay. If you go there, it’s called per se libel or per se, slander. And, you know, then you’re only talking about damages. How much did this, how much did it affect you? I’m worried about this case. Hulk Hogan, if you’ll think about it, he won his case against Gawker. Hulk.

Farron Cousins: And shut them down from it.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah, Hulk, that’s where, and, and this is where the Gawker showed a video and talked about the fact that Hulk Hogan allegedly was having sex with his best friend. Well, Hulk won that case, it was a $140 million case. And it put Gawker out of business. You, you know, you can, first of all, it wasn’t true. You know, they found out this was just a kind of a made up story. But the point, the point is, this is one of these, this is one of these lawsuits that can go really bad real fast.

Farron Cousins: It, it really can. And again, this is not just going to affect politicians who want to call out the corporate money.

Mike Papantonio: It affects us.

Farron Cousins: Yeah. Everything we do here is on the line. So it is one of those times, like I’m, I’m, I’m pulling for O’Rourke to win. But when you actually do dig down into this, man, it, it doesn’t look good at all.

Mike Papantonio: The word, the wording when you take a close look is, it’s, it’s problomatic.

Farron Cousins: And, and it’s tweets. It’s ads. Ads that he paid money to put in front of people.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Yeah. It, it, it did make this cat look like a criminal.

Farron Cousins: Yeah.

Mike Papantonio: You know, the totality of it made him look like a criminal.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.