Courtroom drama

Malouf case vs. Candy Evans takes a Downton Abbey-esque turn as house staff is implicated in breach

Malouf case vs. Candy Evans takes a Downton Abbey-esque turn as house staff is implicated in breach

10711 Strait Lane
The Maloufs have filed a lawsuit to keep journalists — and their own neighbors — off of their property at 10711 Strait Ln.  Significanthomes.com
Austin Photo Set: News_Garland_british tv shows_Jan 2012_dowton abbey
The similarities between the Malouf case and the plot of Downton Abbey on PBS are striking. 
10711 Strait Lane
Austin Photo Set: News_Garland_british tv shows_Jan 2012_dowton abbey

It's starting to look like Richard and Leanne Malouf took Candy Evans to court to find out who among their staff leaked confidential information to the real estate blogger. Questions during a two-day hearing strayed far from the purpose of determining whether or not Evans entered the Maloufs' property. 

In October, the Maloufs filed suit against Evans, Channel 8 WFAA and Laura Wilson, their next-door neighbor. The Maloufs allege all three parties have conspired to trespass on their property; invade their privacy; and defame, libel and slander the couple.

The Maloufs are building a private waterpark in the backyard of their Strait Lane home. Multiple media outlets have covered the progress of the park, as well as its possible connection to pending lawsuits against Richard Malouf's dental practice. 

On December 12, Wilson and WFAA's Byron Harris agreed to a continuation of a Temporary Restraining Order prohibiting them from going near the Malouf estate. Evans did not, and thus the hearing on December 13.

View from the courtroom
Judge Sally Montgomery, who presides over the case with equal parts disdain and bemusement, was incredulous from the start. 

"I'm struggling with this because if someone doesn't want you on their property, you can't go on it," Montgomery said during the hearing's first phase on Thursday. "Whether she was or wasn't [on the property], I don't even need to know." 

 The proceedings included a handsome cast of witnesses, such as real estate maven Doris Jacobs and the Maloufs' personal chef.

The proceedings included a handsome cast of witnesses, such as real estate maven Doris Jacobs and the Maloufs' personal chef and house manager, Juan Laugerud.

Jacobs was subpoenaed by the Malouf team because she is the real estate agent of Phil Romano, who owns the property across the street. Jacobs testified that she did not give Evans permission to be on Romano's property to take photos of the Malouf home. 

Evans took the stand in her own defense on Thursday, claiming she doesn't recall ever stepping on the Maloufs' property, which was established to include the cobblestone driveway that abuts Strait Lane. 

Laugerud testified that he saw Evans flee the property after illegally entering the gate behind a construction crew. Upon cross-examination, Laugerud said he has never actually met Evans but identified her from photos on her blog, Candy's Dirt.

Evans' attorney James Bell asked Laugerud if it were possible that he mistook Evans' identity, since the two have never met. 

"No, it's not possible," testified a suave, scarf-wearing Laugerud. 

Reporter's Privilege under fire
The hearing hit its climax when Malouf attorney Greg Shamoun started a line of questioning about the source of Evans' information, which is protected under Reporter's Privilege. If Evans didn't obtain knowledge about components of waterpark first-hand, then she had to get it from someone inside the property, Shamoun reasoned. 

"What does any of this have to do with trespassing?" Bell asked. 

"I don't know," Judge Montgomery responded. 

Shamoun persisted in his efforts to get Evans to reveal her source, but to no avail. 

"She doesn't have to answer if she takes that privilege," Montgomery said. 

 "I'm afraid that if I reveal the information, I will reveal the source," Candy Evans said.

But Shamoun was able to force Evans to answer a question about what information the unidentified source told her that was published on her blog. 

"I'm afraid that if I reveal the information, I will reveal the source," she said.

Bell objected to the question and referenced Reporter's Privilege a second time, but the judge told Evans she had to answer the question. 

"The source told me that there would be a waterpark in the yard, and the details of the waterpark," a reluctant Evans testified. "The source gave me almost all the information that I blogged on." 

At this point, Leanne Malouf burst into tears. 

"Was your source Mr. Kinney?" Shamoun asked. 

"It's a private source," Evans said, adding later, "He's not my source." 

David Kinney is the former house manager at Malouf Manor. He was fired in June 2012 after Richard Malouf says he found a hidden camera in his closet. 

 "Is this a blog?" the judge asked. "You can tell how much I'm up on this stuff." 

Evans, who claims she did not know Kinney's name or his position on the Malouf staff, said she found out his identity while observing Richard and Leanne Malouf's depositions. 

The hearing took another detour, this time into the comments section on both WFAA.com and Candysdirt.com. 

"Is this a blog?" the judge asked no one in particular. "You can tell how much I'm up on this stuff." 

At least one comment in question on WFAA.com has been removed at the Maloufs' request since the lawsuit was filed, an attorney for the station said. No comments have been removed from Evans' blog, but she says no request has been made. 

"It certainly would be concerning to have this in the public domain," the judge said after deciding to allow the comments into evidence. 

Richard Malouf takes the stand
On Friday, December 14, Richard Malouf testified that his family has suffered as a result Evans' reporting. 

"We feel our privacy and our solitude have been ripped from us," Malouf said. "We feel scared to go into our own yard. ... The security of our family is now compromised." 

 "We feel our privacy and our solitude have been ripped from us," Richard Malouf said.

Malouf said he's never spoken with Evans, nor has he seen her take photos of his house while on the property. But he claimed to have seen her at the family home during a birthday party for his daughter in April 2011. 

Upon cross-examination, attorney James Bell asked Malouf if he was aware that Evans broke her ankle in March 2011 and was in a cast. Malouf said he was not aware of that.

At the time of the birthday party, the Malouf home had 16 security cameras. However, no footage of Evans on the property exists. Of course, Malouf alleges that none of the cameras are capable of recording footage. They simply provide video in real-time. 

"Is it possible that there are recordings that you don't know about, on the cloud or on a server somewhere?" Bell asked. 

"I don't think it's possible," Malouf said. 

Before the hearing recessed for the day, Bell got in one final question. 

"Do you want to tell the judge that there was no invasion of privacy or trespass, and you just made the whole thing up?" Bell asked. 

"That couldn't be further from the truth," Malouf said. 

The hearing will resume in County Court at Law No. 3 on Thursday morning.