EDINBURG — A judge awarded The Monitor and its parent corporation AIM Media Texas $150,000 for legal fees incurred while defending itself against a frivolous defamation lawsuit.
Judge Luis M. Singleterry of the 92nd state District Court ruled against former attorney Mark A. Cantu on Tuesday. In May 2015, Cantu sued The Monitor, Valley Morning Star, a former editor and a reporter for defamation for reporting on a Texas Supreme Court decision that found the former attorney colluded with a juror to obtain a $3 million settlement during a personal injury trial in 2014.
“The judgment entered today by Judge Singleterry is hopefully the last chapter in defending The Monitor’s and the Star’s free press rights in a case of enormous public importance,” AIM Media Texas attorney John Bussian said. “The journalists for The Monitor and the Star, as the court of appeals found earlier in the litigation, were simply reporting what the courts had to say about Mr. Cantu’s conduct and the public has a right to know about that.”
The ruling was made under provisions of a state law that protect First Amendment rights by discouraging frivolous lawsuits, called anti-SLAPP or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
Singleterry issued the same ruling against Cantu in October 2017, but Cantu appealed the decision to the 13th Court of Appeals, which dismissed his lawsuit in its entirety and remanded the case back to Singleterry. The parties argued their case again in Singleterry’s court in August 2019, and six months later, the judge issued the final judgement.
“We were hopeful throughout the course of this case that our constitutional right to publish the news, generally and of course in this case about the judicial community, would be upheld,” said Stephan Wingert, publisher and editor of The Monitor as well as regional vice president for AIM Media Texas. “This judgment shows our faith in these proceedings, and in our case, was well-placed, and we are certainly pleased with the outcome.”
Singleterry also included future legal fees in case Cantu decides to appeal his ruling. Cantu will have to pay AIM Media Texas $25,000 for an appeal to the Court of Appeals or $10,000 if he files a petition for review in the Texas Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court calls for briefs, he’ll have to pay an additional $25,000, and if the court decides to hear arguments, he’ll have to pay another $10,000.