Houston attorney Robert S. Bennett has sued a former legal assistant at his firm, alleging she made defamatory statements about him on Facebook.
Bennett, managing partner of Bob Bennett & Associates, seeks a permanent injunction to prohibit Xiomara Collins of Houston from making any false statements about him that disparage him; to mandate that Collins “correct all disparaging and false statements” about him allegedly posted on the Houston Family Law Facebook page or elsewhere on Facebook or the Internet; and to mandate that Collins offer a “formal public apology” to him, his firm, his clients and colleagues that meets his approval.
In his Aug. 30 petition, Bennett alleges Collins’ “public accusations” on the Internet have caused him “considerable damages” and that the statements were false and she should have known they were false. He alleges the statements caused him “mental anguish and emotional distress” and her statements and actions constitute “interference” with his existing or prospective business relationships.
Bennett brings causes of action alleging libel and common-law defamation, business disparagement and tortious interference.
Bennett’s attorney Jeffery Wagnon, of counsel at Bennett’s firm, says, “The reason he did this was, if you are going to make statements like that in the public media or social media, you have to be accountable to what you say.”
In an email, Collins declines comment.
In the petition in Bennett v. Collins, filed in Harris County’s 334th District Court, Bennett alleges that an attorney posted a request on the Houston Family Law Facebook page on Aug. 21 for a referral for a “civil lawyer with strong experience in slander suits.”
Bennett alleges that an attorney recommended him, but “Collins published a statement in response to [the lawyer's] recommendation of Bennett stating: ‘I would not suggest bob bennett he is bad news!! I would recommend Satan before Bob Bennett!!!’”
As alleged in the petition, Collins “followed up on this defamatory statement” by writing that she is a paralegal who used to work for the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel (CDC) of the State Bar of Texas and “that ‘I know Bennett well you can say he is a frequent flyer with SBOT!!’ “
Bennett alleges that State Bar of Texas disciplinary action is confidential “unless the attorney received public discipline” and he has no disciplinary record with the State Bar of Texas.
On Aug. 22, Bennett alleges he contacted Collins on Facebook about her statements and gave her “opportunity to correct and withdraw the defamatory statements.” However, Bennett alleges, Collins referred him to an attorney and claimed that “she did not defame his character and anyone could ‘Google’ his name.”
Bennett alleges that Collins “willfully and maliciously published defamatory statements against him” to “more than a billion worldwide Facebook users.”
Bennett seeks a public apology on the Houston Family Law Facebook page “stating that Collins’ defamatory statements as published against Bennett on August 21, 2012 were unprofessional and made in error” and stating that he “has never received a public or private reprimand by the State Bar of Texas or the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and that any statements contrary to those facts were erroneously published by Collins.” Bennett also seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages, interest, costs and attorney fees.
While the statements have been removed from the Houston Family Law Facebook page, “it is not known who else was informed of the malicious statements,” Bennett alleges.
In an interview, Bennett notes, “I was pretty upset that would be posted, and it required me to take action.”
Teresa Waldrop, owner of Waldrop Family Law in Houston who is the administrator of the Houston Family Law group on Facebook, says she removed many of the postings on that Facebook thread, including posts by Collins that Bennett cites in the petition, and others that were critical of Collins. She believes she removed them on the day they were posted.
Waldrop says she just “stumbled on” the postings, and removed them because they were “inappropriate.” Waldrop says she has removed other postings on the Houston Family Law Facebook page, including some that made “awful” comments about judges.