Sunday, July 24, 2011

Political antagonists settle defamation suit

Waco – Former Justice Felipe Reyna and a Longview doctor resolved a defamation suit with lightning speed late last week through the services of a mediator.

In a take nothing settlement agreement, both parties agreed to bear their own legal expenses and defendant John Coppedge, M.D., of the Texas Bipartisan Justice Committee countersigned a statement in which he asserted he “regrets any misunderstanding.”

In the lawsuit, former 10th District Court of Appeals Justice Reyna alleged that certain statements made by the committee amounted to defamation of character because they allegedly implied that he had made decisions from the bench based on a personal bias and that these faulty decisions cost the taxpayers a lot of money.

In the settlement agreement, Dr. Coppedge said he “never intended to suggest that Justice Reyna ever decided any civil or criminal cases for any reason other than his good faith belief that his decisions were correct applications of the law to all the facts in those cases.”

The assertion is important because to prove a defamation suit filed by a public official, malice or malicious intentd, or both, must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Such suits are very unusual because the truth is an absolute defense against the charge of defamation, libel or slander.

The bipartisan justice committee backed the successful candidate, District Judge Al Scoggins of Ellis County, in the March 2010 Republican Primary.

The settlement agreement filed in 414th District Court says “nothing contained herein shall be construed as an admission of liability by any party, all such liability being expressly denied.”

Judge Reyna added that the record “reflects that the majority of his rulings did not favor plaintiffs in civil cases nor defendants in criminal cases and that his opinions did not improperly cost tax payers a lot of money.”

Should any further disputes arise in the matter, both parties have agreed to “attempt to resolve the same with Nancy Huston, the Mediator who facilitated.” The agreement goes on to say that if any litigation should arise, “the prevailing party shall be entitled to recover attorney's fees as well as cost and expenses, including the cost of the mediation.”

Both Justice Reyna and Dr. Coppedge wished each other and their families the best in the years to come. Abel Reyna is the District Attorney for McLennan County, a position Justice Reyna once held.

Judge Reyna declined to comment. His attorney did not reply to telephone messages.

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