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Defendants’ brief says plaintiffs have no standing in library lawsuit

Llano County Library in Llano, Texas

The Llano County Library, part of the three-library system in the county. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A brief filed Monday, Jan. 9, by the defendants in the Little et. al. vs. Llano County et. al. civil lawsuit claims plaintiffs have no standing in the suit, which accuses the county of violating constitutional rights after controversial books were removed from its library system.

The brief further states that one of the defendants, Amber Milum, the library system director, is the only person who removed the books and that she used standard industry criteria in making her decisions.

“The plaintiffs’ claim that the disputed books were weeded because ‘the defendants’ disapproved of the content or viewpoints in those books is false,” an introduction to the brief reads. “Amber Milum alone made the decisions to weed each of the 17 disputed books from the library shelves. And Ms. Milum has declared and testified under oath that she weeded those 17 books for reasons unrelated to their content or viewpoints.” 

The defendants’ brief is the final one to be filed related to a two-day hearing on the request for an injunction held in October in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

The hearing was part of a lawsuit filed in 2022 that charges Llano County officials with banning books based on their own political beliefs, a violation of the first and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

Both sides now await a formal ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman on the injunction. Also under consideration by Pitman is a motion to compel discovery filed by the plaintiffs. The motion claims defendants are withholding documents they are required to produce in the process leading up to trial, which is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Documents sought include all emails on county librarians’ Yahoo! accounts as well as emails and all attachments that pertain to the issue from the defendants. 

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 LLP in California and Wittliff Cutter PLLC 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 Jonathan F. Mitchell of Mitchell Law LLC and Llano County Attorney Dwain Rogers and Assistant County Attorney Matthew Rienstra.

The defendants also claim the plaintiffs do not have standing to assert the First Amendment rights of people not a party to the lawsuit.

“The plaintiffs appear to have forgotten that courts exist to resolve disputes between named litigants, not to act as roving commissions empowered to pass judgment on the conduct of the Llano public library system,” the 34-page brief reads.

The 17 books removed from the library system were on a much longer list of titles emailed last year to Milum by County Judge Ron Cunningham. He got the list from Llano resident Bonnie Wallace, who was later appointed to the Library Advisory Board. In testimony in October, Cunningham said he did what he always does with emails from constituents: He forwarded it to the person responsible for dealing with whatever issue the email was about. 

The original list was compiled by state Rep. Matt Krause and sent to schools and libraries across Texas. It targets 850 books that Krause said “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” 

Nationally referred to as “the Krause list,” in Llano County and the lawsuit, it list is known as “the Wallace list.” 

Plaintiffs claim Milum pulled the books because she was told to do so by Cunningham, who, as county judge, is her boss. Defendants say Milum temporarily removed the books for review. 

“Milum did pull books from the Wallace List to determine whether they met the criteria for weeding,” reads the Jan. 9 brief. “Milum decided to weed the books because (in her judgment) they met the criteria for weeding, not because Bonnie Wallace wanted the books removed.” 

Books are regularly weeded from libraries based on their age, physical condition, and how often they were checked out over a certain period of time. 

“Ron Cunningham instructed Amber Milum to temporarily pull books from the library shelves for review, but he never instructed Ms. Milum (or anyone else at the library) to permanently weed a book,” the brief reads.

Upcoming in the lawsuit is a ruling by Judge Pitman on the preliminary injunction and the motion to compel discovery. 

BOOKS IN QUESTION

The 17 books removed from library shelves are available at the Llano County Library in Llano if requested by a patron. They 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
  • “My Butt is So Noisy!,” “I Broke My Butt!,” and “I Need a New Butt!” by Dawn McMillan
  • “Larry the Farting Leprechaun,” “Gary the Goose and His Gas on the Loose,” “Freddie the Farting Snowman,” and “Harvey the Heart Had Too Many Farts” by Jane Bexley
  • “Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen” by Jazz Jennings
  • “Shine” by Lauren Myracle
  • “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Selina Kyle
  • “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero
  • “Freakboy” by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

suzanne@thepicayune.com