"A Harris County District Judge has ordered the owners of an Angleton animal sanctuary to pay nearly $29,000 in sanctions for filing a frivolous, harassing lawsuit against critics of the sanctuary who called the operation a "scam" on Facebook.
Renee King-Sonnen and her husband Tommy Sonnen, who run Rowdy Girl, described as a "vegan" farm animal sanctuary, were also ordered to pay nearly $29,000 in defendants' attorneys' fees. The couple had sued the critics in February for $1 million, accusing them conspiring for nearly two years to disparage the sanctuary's reputation. (Tommy Sonnen is also a sanctuary board member).
The critics — which included former volunteers and donors who questioned the nonprofit sanctuary's finances — raised questions on a Facebook page called The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed.
The defendants, which include Dallas child psychiatrist and former sanctuary donor Sujatha Ramakrishna, successfully sought to have the lawsuit dismissed with prejudice under the Texas anti-SLAPP statute, which is meant to safeguard against meritless defamation lawsuits.
In his lengthy reply, the critics' attorney, Adam Milasincic wrote, "There is no doubt what this lawsuit is designed to achieve — stopping the public debate about Rowdy Girl, and silencing critics who raise questions about Rowdy Gir's less-than-stellar fundraising and animal-welfare records."
A presiding judge agreed, ordering the plaintiffs on July 26 to pay $28,750 in sanctions, noting that "The Court considered lesser sanctions, but determined that [the amount] is necessary to achieve the [anti-SLAPP's] deterrent purpose. The Court concludes that, absent the sanction awarded, there is a material risk that Plaintiffs will continue to bring similarly unsuitable claims in the future."
Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the USDA. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.
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