Dixie Chicks Case Goes Federal

After being hit with a defamation suit in November, the Dixie Chicks’ case has now moved to federal court as the band’s lawyers say jurisdiction applies because the parties are from different states and the amount of damages is likely to be more than $75,000.

Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of three 8-year-old boys murdered in West Memphis, Tenn., in 1993, filed suit against the Dixie Chicks, focusing in particular on Natalie Maines.

The singer spoke out at a 2007 rally and on the group’s Web site in support of the three young men convicted in the murders and alleged that the stepfather was connected to the slayings.

Lawyers for the band said statements by the Dixie Chicks regarding the case were not defamatory because they were protected as an exercise of free speech under the First Amendment, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The lawyers added that the statements were part of an official report or public meeting and constituted protected comment on matters of public interest.

The Dixie Chicks’ lawyers said the singers’ statements were made in good faith without malice and against a man who has become a public figure because of the criminal case.

The law specifies that a public figure has a higher burden of proof and must show that defamatory statements were made with “actual malice,” either known to be false or with reckless disregard for the truth, as reported by the paper.
In the suit, Hoobs said that he suffered loss of income and injury to his reputation, as well as emotional, mental and physical injuries. Hobbs is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley – the “West Memphis Three” – were convicted in the killings of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Steve Branch, the stepson of Hobbs. The three 8-year-old boys were found dead in a ditch near their homes.

Misskelley was sentenced to a life-plus-40-year sentence for the killings. Baldwin was given a life sentence without parole and Echols, then 19, the oldest of the three, received the death penalty.