A Fort Bend jury in Judge Tommy Culver’s 240th district court found the Fort Bend Star liable for defaming Chief Deputy Craig Brady’s son Wade Brady in an article published January, 2003 which discussed the chief deputy’s actions related to his son’s ticket for MIP (minor in possession) and subsequent expunction order. The story discussed the Chief Deputy’s conversations with the ticketing deputies, then using the questionable expunction order, which the Star claimed was not signed in a timely matter, to get the secret tape recordings the deputies had made of their meetings with the senior Brady.
Only $50,000 in actual damages were awarded. Although $1 million in punitive damages was assessed against the Star, it was far over the limits permitted and should be reduced significantly, according to the Star’s attorney John Edwards of the noted firm Jackson Walker.
Edwards also said the verdict presents several First Amendment issues and will be appealed.
The reporter of the story was LeaAnne Klentzman, who had previously been employed by the sheriff’s department six years before the story. Plaintiff attorney John Zavitsanos argued that Klentzman had malice toward Craig Brady and took it out on his son, who was 18 at the time of the MIP and over 19 when the article was published.
The Star had previously published several opinion columns about the MIP and Craig Brady’s handling of the legal issues about his sons, but those were not the subject of the suit. However, these opinion columns, appearing in Bev’s Burner in the Star, and Susan DeQuesney’s column, were used to buttress the plaintiff’s case.
Wade Brady, 27, testified that he gained 30 pounds, stayed in his room more than before, and was depressed after the story came out.
Star publisher Beverly Carter said the story was true and she would not change it even today.
The Star had previously asked Judge Culver to issue a summary judgment, which would throw the case out of court. After his denial, the Star appealed his decision, claiming Wade Brady was a limited purpose public figure due to his father’s position as a public official and based on the subject matter of the article. After the Star was unable to get the suit dismissed, it finally went to trial for the past 1 1/2 weeks .
“We don’t think we have acted irresponsible,” said Star publisher Carter, “and we plan to continue to bring the news and opinions to the reading public of Fort Bend County.”