A federal appeals court affirmed a decision by a lower court judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the San Antonio Express-News of violating a lawyer’s privacy by writing about a string of threats he allegedly made against his wife’s former lovers.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit filed by the estate of lawyer Ted H. Roberts and his wife, Mary S. Roberts. The couple filed for bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy trustee brought the suit against the newspaper and its parent company, Hearst Communications Inc.
The suit attacked a June 2004 article in which the Express-News reported that Ted Roberts confronted and threatened to sue several men with whom Mary Roberts had affairs. Four men paid Ted Roberts about $150,000 total as part of confidentiality agreements.
“From the start of what has become a long struggle, we have stood firm in our belief that there was undeniable news value in this story and the reporting that brought it to light,” said Brett Thacker, managing editor of the Express-News. “The 5th Circuit, in its wisdom, has ratified that view and upheld the underlying principles of the First Amendment with this opinion.”
A year after the article was published, Ted and Mary Roberts were charged with theft by coercion. Ted Roberts was convicted on three counts of theft earlier this year and faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced next month. His wife is still awaiting trial.
The lawsuit alleged the newspaper invaded the couple’s privacy, intentionally inflicted emotional distress and included private personal information in sealed court records.
But the appeals court found the story’s news value eclipsed privacy concerns.