Texas Developer Files Lawsuits To Bulldoze Freedom of the Press


Back in June we told you about a case in Clarksville, Tenn., where a pair of local officials took members of a grassroots eminent domain group to court for pointing out the strong relationship between the local government and developers.

Now comes another case where those who have threatened eminent domain have gone after those who have taken positions opposing them.

This one concerns a Texas developer who is suing a journalist who wrote a book on eminent domain, her publisher, and, most absurdly, a law professor who wrote a blurb for the book’s cover, and the Institute for Justice’s Texas Chapter has come to their defense. The developer has sued a number of others who have written pieces related to the book, too.

Dallas, Texas—In perhaps the most striking example of a disturbing national trend, Dallas developer H. Walker Royall has launched a lawsuit spree to silence any media or public affairs commentator who dares expose his attempted abuse of eminent domain. Similar suits have been filed in Tennessee, Missouri and elsewhere by developers and governments looking to silence critics of eminent domain for private gain.

Royall worked with the city of Freeport, Texas, to try to condemn a generations-old shrimp business owned by the Gore family to make way for a luxury marina. The project became the subject of the book, Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land, authored by veteran legal journalist Carla Main. Bulldozed tells the story of Freeport’s plan to take the Gores’ waterfront property for Royall’s luxury marina development project. Only hours after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain abuse decision, the city instructed its attorneys to redouble their efforts to seize the Gore family business. Bulldozed unravels why, after years of litigation, the threat of condemnation continues to hang over the Gores. The book was reviewed in many newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, was nominated for the Texas Historical Commission’s annual T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award and it won a highly competitive independent press award for political science writing.

After journalist Main wrote her book exposing the Freeport land grab, Royall sued her as well as her publisher, Encounter Books, for defamation. He even sued nationally renowned Law Professor Richard Epstein who wrote a blurb for the book’s dust jacket. When someone reviewed the book, he sued him. When two newspapers published that review, he sued them.

Today (Wednesday, December 10, 2008), the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter (IJ-TX) filed a notice of appearance with the Dallas County District Court in order to vindicate the right of author Main, her publisher and Professor Epstein to freely debate eminent domain abuse.

“Rather than try to defend his indefensible effort to have the government take someone’s land for his private development project, H. Walker Royall sues and sues and sues and sues,” said Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, which is defending the book’s author, the publisher and law professor Epstein.

This is not Royall’s only series of suits against his opponents. A few months back, he also sued Wright Gore, the property owner in Freeport, Texas, who led efforts to oppose eminent domain abuse and complained about Royall’s tactics. Read the entire press release at IJ’s site.