Texas AG pulls out of Llano County library lawsuit; jury trial set
It was a busy week in a civil suit brought against the Llano County Library System for actions that plaintiffs have called censorship. The week began with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton withdrawing as intervenor-defendant on Monday, Aug. 1.
The next day, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman set Oct. 23, 2023, as the date for a jury trial in the case of Little et al v. Llano County et al.
Then, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, the defendants in the suit filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion for a preliminary injunction, which announced that a donor to the Llano County Library System pledged to provide physical copies for checkout of each of the books removed from library shelves that were listed in the lawsuit. Those books would be available through the library system’s in-house checkout system, which makes personal or donated books available to patrons even though the books are not on the shelves.
Seven plaintiffs filed a complaint to initiate the civil suit on April 25, claiming that actions by the Llano County Commissioners Court and the Llano County Library Advisory Board violated rights guaranteed in the First and 14th amendments. Reasons listed include the removal of controversial books from library shelves, changing the library system’s e-book service, the dissolution of the old Library Advisory Board followed by the creation of a new one, and the March 9 firing of Suzette Baker, the head librarian of the Kingsland Branch Library.
Plaintiffs are Leila Green Little, Jeanne Puryear, Kathy Kennedy, Rebecca Jones, Richard Day, Cynthia Waring, and Diane Moster. They are represented by law firms BraunHagey & Borden in California and Wittliff Cutter in Austin.
Defendants are Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham; county commissioners Peter Jones, Linda Raschke, Mike Sandoval, and Jerry Don Moss; library system Director Amber Milum; and Library Advisory Board members Gay Baskin, Bonnie Wallace, Rochelle Wells, and Rhonda Schnieder. They are defended by the Llano County attorney and assistant attorney and Jonathan F. Mitchell, Mitchell Law PLLC of Austin.
Paxton filed to become intervenor-defendant on behalf of Llano County in early June. The attorney general’s signature block, which contained the names of seven attorneys from the AG’s office, then began showing up on all of the paperwork going back and forth between attorneys and the judge.
A motion to remove the attorney general from the signature blocks was unopposed by defendants and approved Aug. 3 by Judge Pitman of U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, Austin Division.
Defendants filed their motion against a preliminary injunction to answer a motion for a preliminary injunction that was filed May 9 by the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ motion asked the judge to compel the Llano County Library System to return removed books to the shelves and restore the Overdrive e-book service.
Plaintiffs argued that Llano County commissioners voted to change the library system’s e-book service to Bibliotheca because OverDrive contained at least two of the books taken off of library shelves in Llano County. Bibliotheca, at the time, did not.
According to a filed declaration by Milum, the library system director, Bibliotheca does offer access to the removed books. Her declaration is included in the defendants’ response to the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.
“There is no conceivable violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights when they remain able to check out or read online each of the books that they falsely claim they have been ‘denied their right to access,’” Milum’s declaration states. “Nor can the plaintiffs show ‘irreparable harm’ when they can access each of the disputed books through the Llano County library system, and when they have been given access to a far greater collection of online books than they enjoyed under the OverDrive regime.”
Milum also stated in her declaration that the books taken off of the shelves would have been “weeded” anyway. Weeded is a librarian term-of-art for the permanent removal of books that meet certain standards, the main one being lack of demand.
“My decision to weed the six books had nothing to do with the viewpoints or content expressed in any of those books,” the declaration continues. “I would have weeded each of those six books regardless of the viewpoints or content expressed in those books, and I would have done so even if no one in the community had ever complained about them.
“More importantly, the library system declined to remove 41 books that had been opposed by members of the community — and they declined to take this step because those books did not meet the library’s criteria for weeding.”
The books taken from Llano County Library System shelves that are listed in the lawsuit are:
- “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson
- “They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
- “Spinning” by Tillie Walden
- “In the Night Kitchen” by Maurice Sendak
- “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris
- A read-aloud picture book series including “My Butt is So Noisy!,” “I Broke My Butt!,” and “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan
- A read-aloud picture book series including “Larry the Farting Leprechaun,” “Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose,” “Freddie the Farting Snowman,” and “Harvey the Heart Has Too Many Farts” by Jane Bexley
- “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings
- “Shine” by Lauren Myracle
- “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
- “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark