As reported by the Current in Animal Wrongs, on October 15 Carol Asvestas, founder and former CEO of the Wild Animal Orphanage, sued the new WAO board, claiming that it acted without proper authority when it suspended and then fired her and former husband Ron Asvestas. The original lawsuit asked for monetary and property restitution.
On November 9, the Wild Animal Orphanage (led by new CEO Nicole GarcÃa, who is Carol and Ron's daughter) counterattacked. WAO's answer states that the “Orphanage denies each and every, all and singular, the allegations â?¦ and respectfully requests Plaintiffs be required to prove such allegations by a preponderance of the evidence as required by the laws of the State of Texas.” WAO asked the court that the Asvestases reply within 30 days (by December 9) and that the lawsuit be dismissed.
That isn't the only lawsuit Carol Asvestas is involved in. In August, while she was still in charge of WAO, she filed a libel suit against the San Antonio Lightning's R.G. Griffing, who covered the WAO saga for more than two years and who labeled her “The Lyin' Queen.”
On Friday morning, Eric Turton, Asvestas's attorney, and Griffing (who represents himself), met at the court of Judge John D. Gabriel during Turton's “motion to comply,” which basically means that he wants Griffing to reveal where he got the documentation for the allegations he has made against Carol Asvestas.
Turton told the judge he sent Griffing a written Discovery Request on September 19 and on September 25, and received no reply. He said he sent Griffing an email on October 28, with no answer, and that nine weeks later Griffing finally replied with a “rambling, non-responsive answer.” A final email from Turton was greeted with “a flippant response.”
“I'm getting nowhere with this, so we're filing a Motion to Comply,” said Turton, who told the judge “There's nothing unusual with this request.”
“In other words: Show me your sources,” he said.
Turton also asked the judge to make Griffing pay for attorney's fees. After stating that he made $250 per hour, Turton described to the judge the time he spent on the case and requested a judgment for $1,150.
The judge subtly rolled his eyes, while Turton asked that Griffing answer (both sources and money) by December 1.
“It gives him another week `to prepare`,” Turton said.
Griffing began telling the judge that the lawsuit stemmed from a series of stories he published on the Lightning and that those stories were “backed up” by another story in the Current. Turton objected, saying, “the San Antonio Current story was irrelevant” to the case, but the judge wanted to hear more.
“I can't reveal the sources of my reporting,” Griffing said. “ It's either source materials or public records. Based on the new Texas Shield Law, I have to protect my sources.”
“Is that your defense?” asked the judge, who admitted he was not very familiar with the law.
The Texas Free Flow of Information Act, or Texas Shield Law (HB 670), was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in May, and it states that no “judicial, legislative, administrative, or other compulsory process" can compel a journalist to reveal "any confidential or nonconfidential information, document, or item obtained or prepared while acting as a journalist" or "the source of any information, document, or item ..."
But the law, written by San Antonio State representative Trey MartÃnez Fischer, also states that the court can compel the journalist to reveal that information if three factors come into play:
1. All reasonable efforts have been exhausted to obtain the information from alternative sources.
2. The information is relevant and material to the proper administration of justice, and
3. The information sought is essential to the maintenance of the claim or defense of the person asking for it.
The key allegations against Carol Asvestas are easily found through Freedom of Information or public information requests.
The judge told Griffing that, no matter what his answer is (and he does plan to invoke the shield law), he must formally reply and gave him 30 days (three more weeks than what Turton would have preferred) to stop by Turton's office and deliver his response.
“Just make sure you get these answers,” said the judge.
“Well, that was a good first step,” said Turton after the hearing. “Yes, it was a good first step,” replied Griffing.
After Turton left, Griffing turned to me.
“He thought he was going to get his money now, didn't he?”