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“I sleep fine at night because I know I’m doing the right thing,” said Jennifer Olson, Protective Parents Coalition cofounder. Photo by Madelyn Edwards.

Jennifer Olson brought a valuable person with her to meet me at a grocery store café for this interview –– her 6-year-old son. The brown-eyed boy sat quietly as I talked to his mom about a pending lawsuit against her. The Southlaker, who has two kids, mentioned how important her children are to her when explaining why she advocates for reforms to the family court system. Her argument is simple: change the laws for the safety of the kids and families involved.

“I’m just trying to make the system more transparent for everybody,” Olson said. “I don’t like bullies. I fight for the underdog, and I feel like the system is bullying Tarrant County families.”

Lori DeAngelis and Laurie Robinson claim they are the ones being bullied. The two Fort Worth attorneys recently filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the Protective Parents Coalition, a nonprofit devoted to family court reform which Olson cofounded two years ago, and Donna Tribunella, a fellow coalition member and mother of two. DeAngelis and Robinson claim they have been libeled and defamed by Olson and Tribunella on Facebook and on the coalition’s website. According to the lawsuit, Olson and Tribunella repeatedly posted comments accusing DeAngelis and Robinson of destroying case studies and collecting “unearned” attorney fees from clients. The plaintiffs deny the claims.

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The plaintiffs did not respond to interview requests for this article.

Jim Ross, DeAngelis and Robinson’s attorney, said this case isn’t about free speech but about lying.

“We believe that the defendants have made statements that accuse my clients of specific acts of crimes when there have been no crimes committed in any way, shape, or form,” Ross said in a phone interview.

Tribunella said she uses the Protective Parents Coalition’s Facebook page as an outlet to rail against the court system and share her personal experiences. She said it helps her reach parents who feel they have been mistreated by local lawyers and judges. The forum, she said, lets other victims see that they are not alone in their struggle for justice.

“I cannot be quiet,” Tribunella said, adding that she would “speak as loud” as she can to “get something to happen,” meaning Tarrant County family court reform.

Olson believes that lawyers and judges sometimes leave kids in bad situations to profit from families and keep them returning to court. She has traveled to Austin and, along with many other reform advocates, has urged state representatives to change the laws. Locally, coalition members often attend family court hearings to document allegedly unfair practices.

The lawyers’ lawsuit, Olson said, is another form of harassment.

“I sleep fine at night because I know I’m doing the right thing,” she said.

DeAngelis and Robinson filed their lawsuit against Olson and Tribunella last month. The lawyers also asked for a temporary restraining order against the defendants, which was denied.

Nineteen supposedly harmful posts are listed in the lawsuit. One of them featured photos of the plaintiffs on the coalition’s website with the caption “worst family court Fort Worth appointed attorneys.”

Tribunella, in several comments as recorded in the lawsuit, says her youngest daughter was poorly represented by DeAngelis as an amicus attorney. Tribunella, via these comments, calls the lawyer many obscene names and specifically accuses her of perjury and of breaking client confidentiality.

Tribunella, via her comments as documented in the lawsuit, also suggests that DeAngelis and Robinson drank alcohol at work and while driving. Tribunella told me that that post was aimed at another lawyer and that she believes her words were twisted to fit the case. Tribunella also believes the plaintiffs circulate inflammatory language to call attention to themselves.

“If you want this to go away, why keep making yourselves the victims?” Tribunella said.

Tribunella said she deleted her comments. Olson’s posts have also been deleted.

Ross said that doesn’t make a difference.

“Deleting them doesn’t mean they weren’t posted and made public in the first place,” he said, “so she’s still liable for the posting that she did originally.”

Libel and defamation cases based on online posts do not happen frequently in North Texas, according to published reports, but some in Texas stick out. In 2012, a couple in Clarksville, a town about 170 miles northwest of Fort Worth, was awarded $13.78 million in a defamation lawsuit against once-anonymous commenters, who referred to Mark and Rhonda Lesher on the open forum Topix.com as sexual deviants and drug dealers, most likely motivated by earlier, legally unfounded accusations of sexual assault against the couple.

And in 2014, Robert Kinney of Austin wanted comments about him by his former employer on an employment and legal news blog to be taken down, so he sued. Though the case was dismissed in a Travis County court, it landed in the Texas Supreme Court by virtue of an appeal by Kinney. The justices reversed the county court decision and ordered the statements to be deleted.

There is not a libel law specifically regarding social media posts.

Both defendants are planning to fight back. Fort Worth lawyer Greg Westfall is representing the coalition and Olson. Tribunella has yet to hire an attorney but is considering representing herself.

Olson said she’s ready for the battle. “We honestly see this as an opportunity to let everyone see what’s really happening” in the family court system, she said.

The next step in the legal process is for the defendants to respond legally. Westfall said he will file at least a general denial of the plaintiffs’ claims.

7 COMMENTS

  1. These two are nothing more than ” Public Pretenders ” being called out and they don’t like it.
    The courts require the victims of Child Welfare to have the appearance of legal representation, but do nothing to uphold the clients rights or voice the concerns of the victims to the judge. Many of the services the courts order of these Public Pretenders in the beginning of these assaults against the parents are never accomplished until a month before trial. While the parents are stripped of their Constitutional and Civil Rights by the courts leaving the parents no defense against the multiple criminal acts committed by what has become a national threat to children and families by a corrupt government organization.

  2. I support PPC and Jennifer and Donna and every other citizen that cares enough to go see just what goes on in the courts. There are 50 billion $$$ reasons to give the court admins incentive to try and keep the public out of the courts and at any cost. If they have nothing to hide, let the court watchers watch – and for that matter – video the proceedings in every case and let the litigants have access to it. Stop gagging cases for the protection of the wrong parties. People would be shocked to know what really goes on and what physical, emotional and financial ruin litigants risk when they go to family court.

  3. The same plaintiffs, DeAngelis and Robinson, previously filed a suit against the same defendants in 2015. That case is Tarrant County civil case 153-282927-15. The suit was dismissed on the ground that it was a SLAPP suit, and the plaintiffs were ordered to pay defendants’ attorney fees. It is under appeal.

    TheFirstAmendment.org defines a SLAPP suit thusly:

    Generally, a “SLAPP” is a (1) civil complaint or counterclaim; (2) filed against individuals or organizations; (3) arising from their communications to government or speech on an issue of public interest or concern. SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, government officials and others against individuals and community groups who oppose them on issues of public concern. SLAPP filers frequently use lawsuits based on ordinary civil claims such as defamation, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, nuisance, interference with contract and/or economic advantage, as a means of transforming public debate into lawsuits.

    Texas’ anti-SLAPP statute is found at Chapter 27, Civil Practice & Remedies Code. DeAngelis and Robinson’s 2015 suit was dismissed on that ground, and in all likelihood their new suit will be dismissed on the same ground. Some of the Plaintiffs’ claims are not actionable on their face. For example, calling DeAngelis and Robinson the “worst family court Fort Worth appointed attorneys” is obviously a matter of opinion and not actionable.

    If Plaintiffs’ new suit is dismissed on the Texas anti-SLAPP statute, do not be too hasty to sympathize with them, because they are themselves generally immune from lawsuits by aggrieved children or their parents under the doctrine of governmental immunity.

  4. Tarrant County Family Court Judges and the attorneys, CPS and New Day non profit all network together TO TAKE children away from the protective parent, 70% usually the mom. These professionals curiously the same group, same circles are most corrupt. Robinson and DeAngelis are by far the most corrupt family attorneys in the entire State of Texas. Access Visitation grants, double billings, harassment to the families not to mention what the children have to endure. Families lose most of their assets going thru divorce and even their children. Donald Trump will have every document on Tarrant County Family courts as soon as he takes office. Katrina Pierson has already been given info and docs on this huge corruption issue in the 3rd arm of gov particular in Tarrant County of Texas.

  5. Tarrant County Family Court Judges and the attorneys, CPS and New Day non profit all network together TO TAKE children away from the protective parent, 70% usually the mom. These professionals curiously the same group, same circles are most corrupt. Robinson and DeAngelis by far the most corrupt family attorneys in the entire State of Texas. Access Visitation grants, double billings, harassment to the families not to mention what the children have to endure. Families lose most of their assets going thru divorce and even their children. Donald Trump will have every document on Tarrant County Family courts as soon as he takes office. Katrina Pierson has already been given info and docs on this huge corrupt issue in the 3rd arm of gov particular in Tarrant County of Texas.

  6. UPDATE. The lawsuit brought by DeAngelis and Robinson was dismissed under the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, which limits a plaintiff’s ability to sue for public comments regarding public issues. DeAngelis and Robinson appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit. The defendants cross-appealed, asserting that the judge, in dismissing the lawsuit, was required to award their attorney fees.

    The Court of Appeals held that the trial judge’s dismissal was appropriate, but that failure to award the defendants’ attorney fees was error. The trial judge ultimately awarded defendants Olsen, Logsdon, Peery and Howard $11,476 in attorney fees; and defendant Carless was awarded $24,000 in attorney fees.

    Tarrant County case number 153-282927.15.

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