In a 1997 slander lawsuit, Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for Governor, claimed that what she considered false reporting by the Ft. Worth Star Telegram had resulted, in the words of the lawsuit: "Davis has suffered and is continuing to suffer damages to her mental health," 1200 WOAI news reports.
Davis, who was then a 33 year old Ft. Worth attorney who had lost her first political bid, to be elected to the Ft. Worth City Council, sued the Star-Telegram, which is the major daily newspaper in Ft. Worth, claiming that its coverage of the election, in which the newspaper endorsed her opponent, was 'extreme and outrageous in character.' In her lawsuit, Davis claimed that the editors of the newspaper 'knew the articles and editorials would, in reasonable probability, result in harm to the reputation of Wendy Davis.'
"The statements made about Davis and her candidacy were not true, reasonable, and fair comments of criticism of her and her candidacy," the lawsuit states. "The comments were actuated by actual malice and knowledge of the falsity of some of the statements made, and with reckless disregard whether some of the statements were false or not."
In her request for 'significant damages' against the newspaper, Davis' attorneys wrote, "as a result of the actions described above, Davis has suffered and is continuing to suffer damages to her mental health, her physical health, her right to pursue public offices in the past and in the future, and to her legal career."
Davis campaign spokesman Bo Delp shot back, saying the lawsuit is part of a 'strategy to create a false caracature of Wendy Davis.'
"First they called her retarded, then they called her stupid," Delp said. "now this. This 20 year old lawsuit used standard lawyer language."
"I think this lawsuit is a window into Wendy Davis' soul' said one Republican strategist who asked not to be identified.
Democrats dismiss the mental health claim, saying claims like that are 'boilerplate' in lawsuits and should not be taken literally.
Mark Jones, a respected political analyst at Rice University, says this is the exact sort of thing that can sit unmentioned when somebody is running for local office, but when she is running for the high profile office of governor, can cause serious problems.
"It definately paints her in a negative light," he said. "This is somebody who is so self-absorbed, at least in that moment, that she thought she could sue a newspaper for simply doing a job that we all expect a newspaper to do, which is accurately covering a political race."
Jones says the claim of 'damages to her mental health' in the lawsuit will be damaging to Davis, and whether it was true or rather it was simply 'boilerplate' claims doesn't really matter.
"If she truly did suffer a serious mental health effect from a city council campaign and the impact of one newspaper, than what does that say for her running for the office of governor," Jones said. "And if she threw that in there knowing full well it was false, and put it in there just to bolster her case, and she knew full well that she didn't suffer any mental health effects, that portrays her as somebody who will do almost anything just to win a case."
Jones expects the lawsuit, and Davis' claims in it, to become a significant issue in the upcoming race for governor.
Davis' lawsuit was dismissed by the local, appellate, and eventually by the State Supreme Court.