District Court Judge James “Jim” Johnson levied a $10,000 fine against Allison Publications, the parent company of D Magazine, along with a stern warning to the magazine’s editor, Tim Rogers. They filed a suit against a local freelance writer alleging that she had damaged business relationships by falsely portraying the magazine’s editors as racist.
The writer, who goes by the pseudonym Maya Pembledon, claimed in court that her actions were protected by state law.
Pembledon told the courts that D Magazine used the lawsuit to silence her in violation of the Texas Citizens Participation Act. The courts agreed with Pendledon and dismissed the suit filed by Rogers. In addition to a $10,000 fine, Rogers will be required to pay attorney fees and court costs incurred by Pendledon.
“We’re very pleased the court acted to protect my client’s First Amendment rights. The fact the court chose to impose a significant $10,000 sanction on D Magazine shows the court agreed that this sort of harassment of an independent writer has no place in our courts,” said Tony McDonald, the attorney who represented Pembledon in court.
Rogers filed a business disparagement claim with the District Court after learning that Pembledon had asked questions of advertisers and featured businesses of the magazine. Pembledon was working on a project that examined potential racial bias in D Magazine’s selection of businesses.
Through her research, she identified that the editors of D Magazine appeared to prefer white-owned businesses in advertisements and feature articles.
“I am a black woman. I am a single mother. I am an independent writer. And I am now under attack through this lawsuit by Tim Rogers, Editor, and Allison Publications, the wealthy white-owned parent company of D Magazine and People Newspapers,” Pembledon wrote to the courts. “They filed this baseless, harassing lawsuit against me in an attempt to silence my voice because I am researching a piece about racial bias in local journalism, including at D Magazine.”
“The court assesses sanctions under TEX. CIV. PRAC. REM. CODE 27.009(a)(2) against Allison Publications, LLC, in the amount of $10,000.00 such amount being sufficient in the court’s discretion to deter Allison Publications, LLC, from bringing actions similar to this one in the future to silence the opinions or free speech of others,” Johnson wrote in his final ruling.
Rogers will be liable for $10,650 in attorney’s fees incurred by Pembledon as she defended herself against the business disparagement lawsuit.
Johnson also wrote that Rogers will be liable for $12,500 in attorney fees along with an additional $5,000 if oral arguments are taken in pursuit of an appeal should the courts find for Pembledon.
Rogers did not respond to a request for comment on this story.