Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines has never been shy about expressing her opinions. There was, of course, the 2003 concert when she famously declared that she and her bandmates were ashamed that President George W. Bush was a Texan, which stirred intense feelings toward the band and led to the documentary "Shut Up & Sing." Maines has also been outspoken about medical marijuana and the songwriting abilities of country star Toby Keith.
Toby Keith didn't resort to litigation, but Maines did land in legal trouble for her public comments on the case of the West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers who were charged and convicted for the murders of three 8-year-old boys in in the mid-1990s. Maines was moved by two HBO documentaries on the case -- "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Lost 2" -- and urged her fans to take an interest in the case because she believed the convicted teenagers, now men in prison, were innocent of the crimes. In a 2007 letter she posted on the Dixie Chicks' Web site, she summarized evidence that Terry Hobbs -- who was once married to the mother of one of the murdered boys -- had committed the crimes. She made similar statements at a rally in support of the West Memphis Three.
Last January, Hobbs sued Maines and the other Dixie Chicks in Arkansas state court for defamation. Maines' lawyers at Fulbright & Jaworski removed the case to federal court. And on Tuesday, the Fulbright team -- which included Dan Davison and D'Lesli Davis -- won dismissal of the case.
In a 41-page decision, Little Rock federal district court judge Brian Miller found that Hobbs was a public figure for the limited purpose of the murder case because he had tried to use the media to clear his name. That meant he had to prove Maines acted with actual malice when she made statements about his culpability. Judge Miller found that Hobbs and his counsel from Hiland, Davies & Thomas couldn't establish malice.
Davison of Fulbright told us that this was the firm's first work for Natalie Maines, but he's previously represented other celebrities, including Michael Moore and Rob Reiner, in slander cases. (Fulbright initially represented all three Dixie Chicks but withdrew as counsel to Martie Maguire and Emily Robison; they were represented by Robert Wellenberger of Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons.)
"We thought this was a very clear cut case from a libel/slander standpoint," said David. "We were very pleased that the judge thoroughly considered the facts ... and spared us a trial."
Hobbs's counsel, James Hiland of Hiland Davies, did not return our call for comment.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.