Hearing set on order to grill Southeast Texas Record journalists

Ann Maher Apr. 19, 2007, 8:00pm

BEAUMONT, Texas -- A Jefferson County judge will hear arguments on a motion to quash the depositions of two Beaumont journalists accused of tampering with a jury.

Attorneys for the Southeast Texas Record filed the motion before a deposition was set to take place on the morning of April 19. The hearing is scheduled April 25 at 1:30 p.m.

Gregory S. Coleman of Yetter & Warden in Houston said a judge's order that allowed Beaumont plaintiff's attorney Brent Coon to depose Southeast Texas Record editor Marilyn Tennissen and reporter David Yates was "a clear abuse of discretion" because it violates their First Amendment rights.

The legal newspaper, which reports on civil litigation in Jefferson and Orange counties, published its first issue April 2.

Jefferson County District Judge Donald Floyd on April 13 granted Coon's request to subpoena Tennissen and Yates for a deposition at Coon's office at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 19.

Coon complained to Floyd that Record staff members were distributing newspapers to a jury panel on April 2. Coon, who appeared before Floyd without notifying counsel for the Record, alleged that Tennissen and Yates were attempting to influence jurors in an asbestos case he had proceeding in court.

A jury was never picked in Coon's case, Douglass & Jones v. AC&S, Inc., because the parties came to a tentative settlement.

"In reality, the allegations against relators (Tennissen and Yates) almost entirely are based on the lawyer's dislike of the paper's ownership and its editorial content, and the relators' doing their job as reporters by showing up at the courthouse to cover courthouse news," Coleman wrote in the emergency motion.

In Coon's motion to show cause, he wrote that the Southeast Texas Record, owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was a "sham newspaper" and a "shameful propaganda machine." He accused Record staff members of "milling" and "mingling" about the courthouse.

Coon wrote that the "alleged journalists were present only to taint the jury panel so that a fair and impartial jury could not be impaneled."

He accused the editor and reporter of attempting to "ease (sic) drop on confidential communications between attorneys and their clients."

He also accused them of attempting to "influence" court personnel and judges.

"They have passed out their potentially damaging propaganda to court bailiffs, clerks and reporters," Coon wrote. "They have attempted to endear themselves to the court staff by writing articles about court personnel while making veiled references to pending litigation in the court system."

Coleman said he was disturbed that Coon didn't notify the newspaper before going to the judge on April 13. Coleman said the Record's interests, therefore, weren't protected at the time.

"That shows that Mr. Coon isn't interested in a fair, unbiased hearing," he said. "He seems to be willing to cut corners in the judicial system to harass us."

Coon told the Beaumont Enterprise that the Record "is part of an organized tort reform campaign to limit consumers' recourse against businesses and corporations."

The Record also is published in West Virginia and in Madison County, Ill.

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