Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey Lawyers Win Appeal in Houston Lawyer’s Defamation Case

HOUSTON – A Texas appeals court upheld a take-nothing summary judgment in favor of a Houston lawyer sued for defamation by a law school professor for a letter of complaint addressed to the school’s dean. Family law attorney Ellen Yarrell was litigating a custody dispute. James Paulsen, a South Texas College of Law Houston professor who sat in on a hearing in the case, wrote to the trial court judge on law school letterhead complaining the judge had made critical mistakes in her rulings and that she had been “bamboozled” by Ms. Yarrell and her client.
In response, Ms. Yarrell wrote Mr. Paulsen’s dean accusing the professor of a grave breach of legal ethics, with his unsolicited letter. Ms. Yarrell requested South Texas College of Law to review the correspondence, which was drafted and presented on South Texas College of Law stationery. The use of the stationery gave the appearance that  STCL authorized the communications to the court. Ms. Yarrell asked the Dean to admonish Mr. Paulsen about any future communications on college letterhead that were not authorized by the college and determine if he had committed any sanctionable conduct. Mr. Paulsen sued Ms. Yarrell for defamation and tortious interference with a contract, and Ms. Yarrell filed a counterclaim. At the trial court, attorneys Frank Carroll and Mia Lorick with Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC won a summary judgment on behalf of Ms. Yarrell.

The two lawyers also prevailed against Mr. Paulsen at the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston. On Oct. 12, a panel of that court upheld the take-nothing judgment of the lower court. The judges said the letter to the law school dean was simply Yarrell’s opinion coupled with factual statements that have been shown to be true. The panel also rejected Mr. Paulsen’s argument that he was protected under the Texas Citizens Participation Act supporting free speech. This has been a needless and time-wasting exercise, said Mr. Carroll. We are pleased for our client that that the right decision was made. Ms. Lorick called Ms. Yarrell a hard-working attorney who merely wants to continue representing her clients without the frustration of this unnecessary litigation. We are pleased with the appellate decision.

The case is Paulsen v. Yarrell, case No. 01-16-00061-CV in the Texas Court of Appeals for the 1st District.

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