The owners of Rowdy Girl farm, a self-described farm animal sanctuary run by vegans in Angleton, Texas, were ordered to pay nearly $60,000 in fines and legal bills for filing a meritless lawsuit over a Facebook post that criticized their aggressive fundraising. The owners had sought $1 million for defamation, but their case was dismissed by a Houston court on July 26.
This case should be a warning to thin-skinned people who think that suing their critics is a good way to shut down free speech,” said Houston lawyer Adam Milasincic of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., or AZA, whose client was sued by the couple. “All my client did was raise legitimate questions in a Facebook post. We need to be on guard now more than ever for bullies using our court system as a hammer to whack First Amendment rights.
The suit was filed by Renee King-Sonnen, a country singer who bills herself as the “Queen of Honky Tonk,” and her husband Tommy Sonnen. Until 2014, Tommy Sonnen raised cattle for slaughter. After his wife became a vegan, the couple converted the ranch into a no-kill farm.
But the farm became controversial when Ms. King-Sonnen raised $30,000 from online donors to buy her husband’s cattle to establish the nonprofit. The fundraising practices came under fire, especially after 2015 tax returns revealed that only 9 percent of the nearly $100,000 raised that year was spent on livestock supplies and veterinary care. In addition, cows, birds and a pot-bellied pig have died under suspicious circumstances. Photos show some cows looking emaciated.
Mr. Milasincic’s client, Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna, a child psychiatrist in Dallas and animal rights advocate who once donated to the farm, merely posted her concerns on a Facebook page called The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed. Her post led to her being sued.
This is the most recent case Mr. Milasincic has won under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, a law that aims to shut down lawsuits targeting First Amendment rights. Using the same law, Milasincic has previously won six-figure fines against Schlumberger Ltd. and Landry’s, Inc.
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