Llano County Library defendants ordered to sit for second depositions
Three defendants in the Llano County Library lawsuit appeared before a U.S. District Court judge in Austin on Thursday, April 27, where they were ordered to appear at second depositions when scheduled. Llano County Head Librarian Amber Milum, Llano County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Don Moss, and Llano County Library Advisory Board Vice Chairman Bonnie Wallace were called before U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Lane to explain why they did not show up for scheduled depositions in March.
Lane also ordered defense counsel Jonathan Mitchell of Mitchell Law LLP in Austin to meet all requests for discovery from plaintiffs within 30 days. The plaintiffs have complained to the court that, over the past year, the county has been slow and sometimes unresponsive to their discovery requests.
The hearing was held in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, in the case of Little et al. v. Llano County et al. over the removal of 17 books from county library system circulation. Seven library patrons filed suit in April 2022, claiming the removal was a violation of their rights based on the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Defendants include the head librarian, the Library Advisory Board officers, and the Llano County Commissioners Court.
On March 30, presiding Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary injunction ordering the 17 books in question be returned to library shelves and the digital catalog. The defendants appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
A jury trial in the case is set for Oct. 16.
During the hearing, defense attorney Mitchell explained that he told his clients they did not have to give a second deposition unless plaintiffs requested and received a leave of court order from the judge.
Plaintiffs argued that a stipulation made between the two parties last summer superseded the need for a leave of court order. The language in the stipulation made it clear that second depositions could be scheduled without further orders from a judge, said plaintiffs’ attorney Ryan A. Botkin of Wittliff Cutter PLLC in Austin.
Judge Lane agreed.
“A reasonable person could interpret that the stipulation Judge Pitman ordered (last summer) would cover these three people (the defendants),” he said. “With all due respect, you (Mitchell) decided it didn’t follow the letter of the law, so you said to heck with it.”
The judge continued to berate Mitchell for acting discourteously and not working with opposing counsel to settle disputes outside of court. He wanted to know why Mitchell had not called the plaintiffs’ attorneys in advance to let them know the three defendants were not coming to the depositions.
“What part of courteous lawyering is this?” Lane asked Mitchell. “What possible tactical advantage do you gain (by ignoring a deposition)? Why is it so important that your clients not give a second deposition?”
Mitchell told the judge he was following the letter of the law and that his responsibility was to his clients, to protect them from having to give second depositions until ordered by the court.
“I didn’t want to tip them (the plaintiffs) off,” Mitchell said about why he didn’t call. “It’s not my responsibility to teach them how to practice law.”
Lane told Mitchell that arguments between attorneys should be settled between the lawyers and not dragged before a judge, further clogging over-scheduled court dockets. The judge also berated the attorney for not producing the required documents in a timely manner as part of the discovery process.
“This fight has gone on for over a year,” Lane said. “Every case is like every kid: Each one is different in their own way. This case is a problem child. I don’t want to see y’all again.”
Mitchell was then told to meet the court order knowing “there’s no wiggle room here.”
“I’ve taken a measure of how you defend cases,” Lane told Mitchell. “It’s not the way I would do it. This court is adjourned.”
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The trial will be a bench trial, which means that it will be decided by Judge Robert Pitman, not by a jury.
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