in Houston, Texas
Author, Highland Park developer in court over allegations of defamation in eminent domain book
Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010, 09:39AM CST
By Steve Miller

Highland Park developer Hiram Walker Royall handles adverse publicity the rich, Texan way: he sues.

In a case argued yesterday in the Texas Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas, Royall alleges he was defamed by author and journalist Carla Main in her book, Bulldozed: "Kelo," Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land. He also names her publisher, Encounter books of San Francisco, in his suit. For extra good measure, he sued a lawyer, Richard Epstein, who wrote a jacket blurb for the book. That action was dismissed in March.

scales of justice

Boiled down, the book’s subject is the attempt of the Economic Development Corporation in Freeport, Texas to take a local businessman’s land to build a marina. Royall was to work in concert with the development folks in Freeport.

But the businessman, Wright Gore, and his company, Western Seafood, refused to sell.  Mayhem ensued. Royall even sued Gore for defamation.

 

Main, a former associate editor of the National Law Journal, checked the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London concerning a government’s power to seize land, took a look at the Freeport situation, and could smell the beginnings of a book wrapping the elements together. Encounter, a small publisher with a bent for libertarian politics, bit.

 

Main and Encounter are being represented by the Texas chapter of the Institute for Justice, which handles cases on eminent domain, free speech and individual rights.

 

Royall spoke with a Wall Street Journal columnist recently:

When asked in a phone call what he most objects to, he says it is the portrait of him as a developer who wants to "steal somebody else's property and wants to silence anyone who wants to talk about it."

As an example, Mr. Royall points to the language in an Institute for Justice press release: "When the victims of his eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Texas, complained, Royall sued them for defamation. When an investigative journalist wrote a book exposing the project, he sued her as well as her publisher. He even sued a prominent law professor (Richard Epstein) who wrote a blurb for the book's dust jacket. When someone reviewed the book, he sued him. When a newspaper published that review, he sued them."

Mr. Royall alleges 91 instances of defamatory language in Ms. Main's book, including a dust-jacket summary that describes his involvement as a "risky sweetheart deal" with the city. He further contends that a book is not part of the news media, and that (his partnership with Freeport notwithstanding) he should not have to endure the kind of commentary that a public figure would.” 

It’s an odd place we get to when a person who feels anything critical should not be published, then looks for grounds to sue. Royall’s argument is perhaps specious, but it has not been deemed frivolous. He wants to ban a book. This is Banned Books Week. Funny how that works. See some briefs on the case here and here.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo of a mosaic of the scales of justice by flickr user eflon, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
His Eminence
Wednesday, 09/29/2010 - 10:02AM

When a private figure uses the power of the state to seize another's property, they forfeit their right to shelter from public commentary.

tim_lebsack
Wednesday, 09/29/2010 - 04:27PM

It seems that Hiram Walker Royall's actions have outed him as a scoundrel and a thief.

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