Texas Supreme Court Allows Defamation Case Against Netflix to Move Ahead

Johnston Tobey’s Chad Baruch represents woman claiming defamation over ‘Dirty Money’

DALLAS – The Supreme Court of Texas has denied an attempt by video streaming company Netflix to end a defamation case brought by a Texas woman who claims she was harmed by a March 2020 episode of the Netflix television show “Dirty Money.”

The episode, “Guardians, Inc,” by award-winning producer Alex Gibney, suggested Tonya Barina was abusing her responsibility to her great-uncle, Texas millionaire Charles Thrash, the owner of a successful auto repair business in San Antonio. Court records indicate Mr. Thrash is incapacitated by Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. Barina is legal guardian of his estate.

Ms. Barina sued Netflix in 2021 alleging that the program falsely accused her of exploiting Thrash while failing to include information about Mr. Thrash’s girlfriend, Laura Martinez – who was denied guardianship of Mr. Thrash – and her attorney Philip Ross, both of whom were sanctioned for more than $225,000 for what the guardianship court deemed their “intentional, knowing and outrageous conduct.”

According to court records, the two “engaged in a scheme to cause Thrash, a totally incapacitated individual without the capacity to contract or marry, to participate in a marriage ceremony.” The marriage, to Ms. Martinez, later was annulled. Ms. Martinez and Mr. Ross also tried to have Mr. Thrash adopt Ms. Martinez’s adult children.

Those records also show that Ms. Martinez and Mr. Ross engaged in “fraud upon the Court” and interfered with Barina in the performance of her duties as guardian. The Court found that Ms. Martinez “will testify to whatever facts are necessary for the moment to achieve their purposes.”

Barina alleges that Netflix had the records in question, but instead relied heavily upon the statements of Mr. Ross and Ms. Martinez.

Following Ms. Barina’s lawsuit, lawyers for Netflix filed a motion to dismiss under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, a law designed to protect free speech rights. The trial court denied that motion, and with the Texas Supreme Court decision declining without comment to review the case, Ms. Barina can continue her suit against the media company.

“Tonya Barina deserves justice, and with the action of the Texas Supreme Court, now she is in a position to move forward and get it,” said Chad Baruch, managing shareholder of Johnston Tobey Baruch in Dallas. “Everyone is in favor of free speech, but that’s not what this case is about. It’s about Ms. Barina’s allegation that Netflix made her the bad actor here when she’s not.”

To hear Mr. Baruch discussing the case, click here. 

Mr. Baruch was brought in alongside Ms. Barina’s attorneys Carl J. Kolb and Glenn Deadman to assist with the Texas Supreme Court appeal.

The case is Netflix v. Barina, No. 22-0914 in the Supreme Court of Texas.

Johnston Tobey Baruch is a dynamic law practice based in Dallas. Its trial and appellate attorneys have a broad range of litigation, arbitration and appellate experience. They are pioneers in the handling of legal and accounting malpractice, investment fraud and business disputes. They also have an enviable track record with insurance bad faith matters, commercial litigation and fiduciary litigation, as well as civil, family and criminal appeals for many prominent Texas companies and individuals.

Media Contact:
BeLynn Hollers

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