The Texas Supreme Court has declined to consider the appeal of South Texas College of Law Houston professor James Paulsen, who has engaged in a five-year legal battle over allegedly being defamed by a Houston lawyer.
Paulsen sued lawyer Ellen Yarrell after she complained to South Texas Dean Donald Guter that Paulsen acted improperly when he wrote unsolicited letters criticizing her legal decisions to a trial judge in a high-profile Houston child custody case she was handling.
Paulsen had been asked by the media to comment on a case regarding the custody of twins who were conceived through in vitro fertilization in which Yarrell represented a party. So he attended a 2012 hearing in the case.
After the hearing ended, Paulsen wrote a letter to the trial court on his school’s letterhead criticizing the legal decisions made by Yarrell. He also alleged that Yarrell’s client had committed “egregious misconduct” in the case and also criticized the trial judge’s ruling as “a miscarriage of justice.”
Yarrell then wrote a letter to Guter alleging that Paulsen had violated Texas legal ethics by inserting himself in her case and requested that the school consider sanctions against him. Paulsen responded by suing Yarrell for defamation, claiming the letter she wrote to Guter was defamation per se.
But a trial court later eventually dismissed Paulsen’s lawsuit, a decision that was affirmed last year by Houston’s First Court of Appeals, which concluded in a 28-page decision that Paulsen had not been defamed by Yarrell’s letter to the dean.
“Having considered the entirety of the letter to Dean Guter, we conclude that a reasonable person would perceive the letter to be Yarrell’s opinion coupled with some statements of fact, which have shown to be true, and therefore not actionable in defamation,” wrote Justice Michael Massengale.
Paulsen then appealed the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, which recently declined to hear his petition for review.
Paulsen said he was acting ethically as an amicus curiae in Yarrell’s case when he wrote the letters to the trial court.
“I was an amici. I explicitly said I was an amici,” Paulsen said of his letters to the trial court.
Paulsen said he planned to file a motion for a rehearing before the Supreme Court to reconsider his appeal, “which I fully expect will be denied.”
Yarrell said she was pleased that the Supreme Court declined to hear Paulsen’s defamation appeal.
“I sent a letter to Dean Guter and said this was inappropriate. That’s all I did,” Yarrell said.
“I’ve been practicing law in Harris County since 1985 and I’ve never had a case where a third person interloper just wrote letters to the trial court about a case that was pending,” Yarrell said.