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William J. Dyer

William Dyer’s Answers

1,105 total


  • Is it against the law in any way and could you get arrested/charged/etc replying to a YouTube comment saying “go kill yourself”?

    William’s Answer

    I'm going to move this question out of the Libel & Slander forum to the Internet forum, which I think is most pertinent to your situation for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

    But your question as phrased actually implicates criminal law when you asked about being "arrested/charged/etc." As to that, lawyers who regularly practice criminal law are better suited to give you a confident answer than I am as a civil trial lawyer. However: I will bring to your attention the recent criminal conviction of Michelle Carter for manslaughter based on text messages she'd sent to a boyfriend, urging him to kill himself, which he did. My impression is that case was an extreme outlier, rather than anything typical: the victim was particularly vulnerable, Ms. Carter was alleged to have known and exploited that, and he did indeed act in conformity with what she was urging him to do. Link: https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/michelle-carter-texting-suicide-case-leaving-jail-68474770

    Your question doesn't include anything remotely close to that kind of situation, so even if some Texas statute might likewise support this kind of prosecution, I would expect the odds of it actually leading to you being arrested and prosecuted are quite remote.

    Urging suicide isn't exactly defamatory — meaning, a false statement that damages someone's reputation — so even on the civil (non-criminal) side, you're likely not at much risk for being sued for libel (written defamation). Some states allow a victim to sue someone who's intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon that victim, but in Texas, that's defined so narrowly that you're probably at very low risk of being sued successfully under that theory either. In Texas, there's a ton of stuff that amounts to rude or bad or shameful speech, without being so bad that the victim has a plausible lawsuit.

    Your main risk probably relates to the terms & conditions fine print in whatever social media or other internet platform you used for these communications. If the platform host (e.g., Facebook or Instagram or a blog or online magazine's comments section) is a private entity, and it bans you or restricts your privileges based on its decision (whether right or wrong) that you've violated its standards of behavior, you're probably stuck with that result.

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  • If a person in custody overturns his conviction by habeas in state courts and then sues in Federal, would he be barred?

    William’s Answer

    Your question is a very specific and technical one. I'm moving it from the general Litigation forum to Civil Rights because the lawyers who monitor that forum are more likely to know the answer to your question than the civil trial lawyers who generally monitor the general Litigation forum.

    I suspect what those civil rights lawyers will tell you, though, is that you should consult a qualified lawyer in person, rather than through this public forum, for a question that is this specific. The answer may well depend on specifics of your case that aren't included in your question, but that you don't want to be discussing, even anonymously, on a public website like this one.

    Instead, if you're asking for yourself (instead of just out of idle curiosity or for a friend), then you're best off keeping that level of detail off of internet publications, and instead to instead discuss those details with a qualified lawyer in a private communication that's subject to the cloak of attorney-client privilege.

    In any event, sorry that I can't give you a direct answer myself, and good luck with your inquiry.

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  • Clerical error?

    William’s Answer

    Your experience is unfortunately typical of that of tens of thousands of other Harris County residents who are caught up in the vast and vastly incompetent web of the Harris County Family Courts system.

    If it makes you feel any better, most lawyers and paralegals get exactly the same sorry treatment that you're getting. It is a continuing disgrace in my opinion.

    But I don't regularly practice in family courts — for this among many other reasons — and I'm going to move your question from Litigation, where you (not improperly) posted it, to the Family forum, where it will be seen by more lawyers who do regularly practice in those courts. Perhaps they'll have better suggestions for you than I have.

    I suspect that this is indeed worth trying to fix. I would suggest that you continue telephoning and, if possible, emailing the deputy district clerks assigned to whichever of the state district (family) courts rendered your decree. Be an exquisitely polite but very squeaky wheel. (No threats, no curses, no insults, even if entirely deserved.)

    It's also probably possible to file a formal motion to correct the clerk's records, but you'd probably need a lawyer's help to prepare and present that. You might well be able to find someone who'd do that for you for a relatively modest flat fee. Your ex's lawyer may well agree that such a motion could be filed jointly, in both his name and yours, in which event you could submit a proposed agreed order mandating the correction. (Agreed motions and orders get quicker attention than anything which is contested, which is a not-so-subtle but largely effective way of forcing reasonable people to agree on family law matters; otherwise the system would instantly collapse under its own weight of inefficiency.)

    Good luck!

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  • Can I sue someone for defamation if they lie about me?

    William’s Answer

    Mr. Ninomiya's answer is excellent, and I agree with it.

    For various reasons, the overwhelming majority — I'd guess 98%+ — of plausible defamation claims are uneconomical to pursue. But to see if you're in the small percentage that are, you need to consult a lawyer directly and, if he or she agrees to consult with you (by email, phone, Zoom, etc.), then and only then can you share the details of your situation under attorney-client privilege. UNTIL THEN, share the details WITH NO ONE — online or otherwise. You may well make things worse if you do.

    Good luck!

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  • What can I do for online trolls and online harassment?

    William’s Answer

    I am very sympathetic to your situation. In this digital age, our reputations extend beyond a small town or circle of friends, and a handful of keystrokes and a few mouseclicks can do damage which can't be undone. It's thin comfort, but take some comfort, in knowing you're not alone.

    Now comes what's probably the bad news:

    The remedies that the civil law offers to people in your situation are incredibly expensive to fight over in court. Unlike personal injury cases that many lawyers will take on contingency fees (where they only get paid a percentage of the total of money recovered, typically one-third), very few lawyers will take on reputational damage cases unless the client is paying by the hour, cash up front, refreshing a hefty (four or five-figure) advance fee deposit like clockwork every month.

    I strongly recommend AGAINST being any more specific than you've just been in anything you post on an open internet source like this one. Your communications regarding the details of your situation ought be protected by attorney-client privilege. Among the other downsides to this sort of litigation (besides the cost) is the high potential for blowback and unintended worsening of your situation.

    Finally: Your question references criminal lawyers, but that's not what your legal situation involves. (No one's potentially going to jail over damage to anyone else's reputation.) However, you might have OTHER sorts of remedies that don't involve suing anyone. You can complain, for example, to the social media company that is distributing the harmful material if that's being done in violation of that company's terms of service. This may not unring all the bells, but it may minimize on-going and future harm.

    I'm sorry I don't have better prospects to suggest for you through the civil justice system, but the sad, plain truth is that the civil justice system hasn't caught up to the changes in reputational situations in the digital age. And to the extent it works at all, it only works for very rich people who can hire lawyers by the hour for sport.

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  • Court date reset for another 2 months ?

    William’s Answer

    To the questioner:

    I've moved your question from "Litigation" to "Child Custody" based on my guess as to what kind of a case you're involved in, based on the phrase "hearing of enforcement." That way, your question will be read by lawyers who regularly handle that sort of case.

    I don't generally do child custody cases, but I suspect they will tell you that the sort of question you've asked is not one that any of us can answer over an internet website like Avvo.com. The answer to your question will depend on details very specific to you, which are too private for you to be putting up on a public website. They'll probably tell you that you should hire a lawyer, who can then look into these details and use them to give you the best possible answer to your question.

    Another lawyer has suggested that you may also want to phone the clerk of the court — whatever kind of court that is, family court or otherwise — and that's probably also good advice. The clerk's office staff can't give you legal advice, but they may indeed be able to help you understand what the deadlines and scheduling details are, even before you get a lawyer.

    Best of luck.

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  • Can I verify because I have not had time just yet to hire a lawyer. I was served Monday with a petition and attached discovery?

    William’s Answer

    There is a definite answer to this question in the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. And the answer has changed, effective Jan. 1, 2021. Beware off-the-cuff guesses about this from out-of-state lawyers who don't have a clue what they're talking about because they don't know or care about the Texas rules. (Those out-of-state lawyers are just gaming Avvo's statistics by pretending to answer a question they really don't know the answer to.)

    Before the rules changed, it was permissible to serve multiple types of written discovery — including written interrogatories, requests for production of documents and things, and requests for admissions — simultaneously with the service of the original petition (which contains the plaintiff's claims for relief) and its attached citation to appear (which commands the defendant to file an answer after being served with it, on pain of a possible judgment for the plaintiff by default if no timely answer is filed).

    When any of these forms of written discovery was served simultaneously along with the petition and citation, there was a special rule (former Rule 194.3) providing that responses were due in 50 days after service, instead of the normal 30-day response deadline that applies when discovery requests are served directly on a lawyer for a party who's already "appeared" before the court. If there's a reference in your requests to a 50-day deadline, it's likely that the forms you were served with were prepared by someone who's relying on these old rules.

    Since January 1, 2021, however, new Rule 192.2(a) provides: "Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court, a party cannot serve discovery on another party until after the other party’s initial disclosures are due."

    In turn, new Rule 194.1 creates an automatic duty for a newly-served defendant to make and serve initial disclosures "within 30 days after the filing of the first answer or general appearance."

    Technically, then, the inclusion of interrogatories, requests for production, or requests for admission along with the original petition and citation that you were served with was improper and premature — a direct violation of new Rule 192.2 — regardless of any language in the requests themselves regarding when responses to them are supposedly due.

    What you should be focused on right now is your answer date. For that, the operative document — a form prepared by the clerk (not the opposing lawyer) — is the citation, along with revised Rule 99, which specifies its contents. The key sentence of that Rule, which should be repeated in the citation you received, is: "The citation shall direct the defendant to file a written answer to the plaintiff's petition on or before 10:00 a.m. on the Monday next after the expiration of twenty days after the date of service thereof."

    So if, hypothetically, you were served with the petition and citation on, say, Monday, May 3, 2021, you'd start counting off the 20 days starting with Tuesday, May 4. The 20th day after that will be Monday, May 24. The "Monday next after" that 20th day will be Monday, May 31, 2021 — making the answer for a petition and citation served on May 3 due by 10:00 a.m. on Monday, May 31, 2021.

    Despite your opponents' violation of the revised rules by attaching discovery requests to the petition, most judges are unlikely to treat those requests as entirely invalid and something you can ignore. Instead, they're likely to treat those requests as if they'd been served on your answer date — with the responses as being due 30 days after that. Rather than guessing, however, how the judge might treat the technical rules violation (especially given how recent this huge change to the rules is, and how slowly the practicing bar is getting up to speed on this change), your lawyer should probably try to reach (and document via a "Rule 11 agreement") an agreement with the plaintiff's counsel for an agreed-upon upon response date at least 30 days after your answer date.

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  • If there are numerous defendants and say 8 or 10 are served but 2 can’t be found ?

    William’s Answer

    • Selected as best answer

    It depends.

    If the missing defendants have been properly served with a citation to appear and answer, but have failed to file a timely answer, then the plaintiff should gather his proof of service and use it to seek a no-answer default judgment awarding judgment in the plaintiff's favor against the defaulting defendants. The plaintiff will also need to support evidence to support his claimed damages that he wants included in the judgment. The plaintiff can then seek to have that severed (split) off into a separate cause number for entry of a final default judgment.

    If the missing defendants have never been served, then the judge will probably order that they simply be dismissed from the case, although that will still leave the rest of the case pending against the remaining defendants.

    These are highly technical matters. To get them right, you probably need a lawyer.

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  • Defendant Failed to Answer within 30-Day Time Limit?

    William’s Answer

    Phone the clerk of the small claims court to ask about their procedures for hearing and resolving motions for default judgment. They vary from JP to JP and precinct to precinct, and they've likely be adjusted for the Covid pandemic.

    You'll probably have to request a hearing date and time from the clerk; you may or may not be required to show at the hearing (or Zoom conference? I dunno) that you've given your opponent advance written notice of the default hearing; and you will want to have all the details on date and means of service, as well as evidence to prove up your claimed damages. See Rule 511, 512, 516, and especially 525, 575, and 578 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure for Justice Court. Link: https://www.txcourts.gov/All_Archived_Documents/SupremeCourtAdvisoryCommittee/Meetings/2012/supplementary/sc09282012.pdf

    Note that there are special rules for eviction cases, especially during the pandemic. Ask the clerk about those if you're suing for a writ of possession instead of for a money judgment.

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  • Ex-husband claims I "defamed" him on my social media

    William’s Answer

    In Texas, among private individuals, defamation litigation is uneconomical and impractical for anyone but the very rich. And unlike many other tort claims (e.g., for negligence resulting in a physical injury), very few Texas lawyers are willing to gamble their time, much less front expenses out of their own pockets, on defamation claims. The Legislature and the Texas Supreme Court have comprehensively tilted the playing field against would-be defamation plaintiffs.

    Without reviewing the entire context, and without looking very closely at each of the communications your ex claims to have been defamatory, no lawyer is going to be able to give you a very firm opinion about whether those communications are, or are not, defamatory. Generally, opinions are not; to be defamatory in Texas, a statement must be one of objective, verifiable fact of the sort that does damage to one's reputation, and it must be false. "My ex-husband embezzled from his employer's pension fund," if untrue, would be defamatory. "My ex-husband is a lousy, dishonest @sshole who's mean to children and dogs" is a matter of opinion, incapable of objective and definitive proof or disproof, and is not defamatory.

    I agree with Mr. Ninomiya that your ex sending you his lawyer's contact information is "lame"; the most obvious interpretation for that is that your ex didn't want to pay out of his pocket the fees that any lawyer would charge him for sending you a formal letter demanding that you cease & desist (i.e., stop making statements of the sort he characterizes as defamation) and/or that you issue (publish) a retraction.

    Especially if there was no demand for a retraction (which would probably have included a reference to chapter 73, or in particular to section 73.055, of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, then your husband is probably acting without benefit of a lawyer representing him, and he's trying to intimidate you without having the practical means to follow through on his threats.

    If he's got money to burn on paying lawyers by the hour just to make your life miserable, though, or if his email did include a formal demand for retraction, or if for any other reason you want to get legal advice that you can rely on regarding your potential liability and defenses, you might want to hire a lawyer to consult with you in more detail (which will include going over the allegedly defamatory statements).

    Otherwise, both from a legal point of view and a quality-of-life point of view, it's probably a good idea to simply stop talking about your ex- on social media or anywhere else. That's not capitulating to his attempt to intimidate you; it's just to avoid throwing any kerosene which could turn his smoldering resentments into an active fire.

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