Mike Pickens, who seems to blame his famous father T. Boone for his addiction issues, blogged about his family in a manner they considered “invasion of privacy, defamation, libel, harmful access by computer, and extortion.” But now Mike Pickens has lost an important appeal, and the hydrocarbon tycoon will be allowed to proceed with his defamation suit against his estranged offspring.
In its ruling, the Texas appeals court set aside the state’s anti-SLAPP law and ruled that the elder Pickens’s long advocacy career did not make him a public figure. Via Law360.com, which requires registration or here which is free:
Justice Molly Francis, of the Fifth District Court of Appeals, however, rejected those arguments, saying the court could not conclude that the blog’s statements of private life implicate the broader health or community well-being concerns in the statute and that he had not sufficiently shown that his father and brother are public figures.
“The evidence presented by Michael shows T. Boone has put himself in the forefront of issues related to energy,” the opinion said. “The allegations in this lawsuit, however, have nothing to do with an energy controversy. We conclude Michael has not met his statutory burden to establish his blog relates to health, safety, or community well-being, nor has he met his statutory burden to show that T. Boone and Thomas are public figures.”
The lessons here? Just because someone is famous, or even notorious, does not make them fair game for malicious character assassination. T. Boone Pickens is a public figure in the fracking debate, but not in Mike Pickens’s personal drama. And although anti-SLAPP laws are an excellent way to dispose of frivolous litigators, they are not the ultimate undoing of libel or defamation law. But perhaps the biggest lesson is that bloggers need to make a sincere effort to tell the truth when they write about people.