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Library suit appeal could push back trial

US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

An Oct. 16 trial date in the Llano County Library lawsuit could be pushed back as both sides await a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. 

“I’m not willing to give up on an October trial date, but the appeal may have an affect on that,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Katherine Chiarello of Botkin Chiarello Calaf PLLC of Austin. “The case has been stayed since May. We have not been able to continue to do any discovery that the court gave us leave to take.”

An appeal of a temporary injunction in Leila Green Little et al. v. Llano County et al. by District Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, was heard June 7 by Fifth Circuit Court judges Jacques L. Wiener Jr., Leslie H. Southwick, and Stewart Kyle Duncan. 

The appeal was filed by Llano County, the defendants in lawsuit, after Pitman ordered on March 30 that 17 books removed from the county library system’s circulation be returned to library shelves and the digital catalog. 

The lawsuit, which was filed by seven Llano library patrons in April 2022, claims the plaintiffs’ First and 14th amendment rights were violated because officials removed the books based on their political beliefs. The defendants in the case are members of the Llano County Commissioners Court, the Llano County Library Advisory Board, and the library director, who have countered that standard book-weeding procedures were used. 

According to the Fifth Circuit Court website, opinions are never issued from the bench. Typewritten opinions are sent to the parties involved on the day the court puts the decision on the docket sheet, although the court may just issue a “terse judgement of ‘affirmed.’” Decisions are not signed. 

According to the court’s Most Frequently Asked Questions, its goal is to issue opinions within 60 days of the arguments, which in this case would be around Aug. 7. 

Chiarello’s best guess for the earliest possible decision in the appeal is by the end of the summer. 

“Although it could be as late as the end of the year,” she said. 

The average amount of time for decisions in Fifth Circuit Court cases, which includes both civil and criminal cases, is about nine months from the time the notice of appeal is filed, according to the court’s website. That would put the date for the library lawsuit appeal around March 2024.