This may turn out to be one of the more pointless maneuvers in the ongoing feud between Mexican pop singer Gloria Trevi and TV Azteca, but an appellate court in Texas let the network pursue a counter-suit in Mexico.
The long version headline to the latest court decision should read: WE AIN'T WORRIED ABOUT WHAT SOME MEXICAN JUDGE MIGHT DO, SO GO HAVE AT IT.
The latest turn in this case came April 30 in a Thirteenth District Court of Appeals opinion, but the back story on this starts in 2009 when Trevi sued Mexico-based TV Azteca and it's queen of celebrity gossip, on-air personality Pati Chapoy, for defamation. Chapoy used her program to insinuate Trevi was under investigation for ties to drug traffickers and her husband was a known narcotics smuggler.
For the last five years, the network and Chapoy have been trying to avoid Texas jurisdiction. Their argument was the broadcast was in Mexico and never intended for a U.S. audience. In January, the same judge that ruled in this latest decision issued an opinion allowing Trevi to continue under Texas jurisdiction.
Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez of the Thirteenth District said then that TV Azteca's signal crossed the border. Not only were Texas citizens able to get it, but TV Azteca advertised and had clients on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. There was really no question about the network making money off the Texas side by promoting its market share there, so Texas jurisdiction applies.
For a more detailed explanation on the January opinion, click here. Now on to the next move on this chess board.
Trevi's attorneys have been trying every which way to serve the Texas lawsuit on the defendants. It should be noted that TV Azteca and Chapoy have never recognized Texas jurisdiction and always make a point of answering the trial court in Hidalgo County through their attorneys by "special appearance." This is one of those weird legal maneuvers that makes a sane man's head spin. You just about have to revert to your child mind to get it, because it basically means we're all going to pretend I'm not here, even though I am, but just for the sake of argument.
So, Trevi's peeps tried serving the defendants in person and were rejected. They tried through the Hague Convention and International Judicial Assistance. They tried to get service recognized through public notice. They tried methods I never heard of. Finally, they got the Texas trial court to go along with this unorthodox plan:
What if we serve defendants, they told the judge, "by taping a true copy of the citation, with a copy of the petition attached, to the wall next to the security wall next to the security booth at Door Two, at the headquarters of TV Azteca .. in Mexico City?"
I would have loved to see the judge's face, trying to process that Rube Goldberg idea. Well, the short of it is the trial court went for it! The lawsuit was served as described on Nov. 25, 2011. Truth is stranger than fiction, my friend.
On Jan. 26, 2012, the defendants made their counter-move. They filed suit in Mexico City against Trevi and her husband, claiming they were not served. TV Azteca asked the Mexican court to issue an order declaring the service of process was illegal, the Texas court has no jurisdiction to hear Trevi's complaint and the Mexican notary that handled Trevi's service of process in Mexico did not follow proper procedures.
Trevi responded to the counter-suit in Mexico by going to the trial court in Texas and asking the trial court to enter a restraining order for the defendants to refrain from further action in Mexico City. A truce was called, but it lasted for barely three months and in July 2012 the Texas court heard testimony from experts on Mexican law to get a feel for where this might go.
Trevi's expert, Mexican attorney Jose Humberto Rios Lozano, said if the Mexican court proceeded and Trevi and her husband didn't comply with its orders, even though it is a civil lawsuit, the judge could have them put in prison for up to five years for contempt.
TV Azteca's expert was Texas lawyer David Lopez, who is considered an expert on Mexican law. He told the court that Rios was mistaken because he was relying on outdated information. Under a statutory revision, Mexican judges had been stripped of the authority to thrown people in jail for contempt.
Lopez also said that it was "laughable" to think a Mexican judge would tell a Texas judge what to do. He believed that what TV Azteca was asking a Mexican court to do was clearly something the Mexico court cannot do and the judge would most likely deny their request.
This news perplexed the Texas trial judge, Bobby Flores. Lopez was asked whether "there is any point to this Mexican lawsuit about the service of process besides just putting a finger in the eye of Gloria Trevi?" You see what Flores did there, that oh-so-appropriate reference to the Three Stooges?
But Lopez had a legitimate response. The said the "notario" (notary) who served Trevi's lawsuit at TV Azteca's Mexico City headquarters acted so clearly in violation of Mexican law and civil procedure that "it was almost incumbent upon TV Azteca and Chapoy to initiate the Mexico City suit at the time they did."
Judge Flores gave eight reasons for ruling in Trevi's favor. Without going down the whole list, his rationale boiled down to protecting his court's jurisdiction. He said the Mexican suit was filed to challenge his authority. And despite Lopez's assurances that Mexican judges can't put people in jail for civil contempt, Flores assumed they could.
Flores also noted that it was TV Azteca that broke the truce--"appellants actions in violating the temporary restraining order by continuing to pursue the Mexican City suit 'constitutes a threat to the jurisdiction of this court.'"
Chief Justice Valdez took issue with Flores' granting an anti-suit injunction barring the defendants because such a measure is considered extreme and requires a showing of some imminent and irreparable harm.
"The Mexican court has not enjoined appellees from proceeding with their Texas suit, and the evidence shows that appellants are not entitled to such relief," Valdez said. "Lopez stated that if the Mexican court follows the law, it will not grant appellants' request to enjoin the Texas court."
Even assuming a Mexican court issued an injunction against a Texas court, the Texas court has no obligation to follow it, Valdez said. And while a Mexican court may charge Trevi and her husband with a criminal violation, there was no evidence that the Mexican court would in fact do so.
Valdez's tribunal ordered the injunction dissolved.
Trevi and her husband were represented by Raymond L. Thomas Jr. of Kittleman Thomas in McAllen and Rebecca Vela of McAllen.
TV Azteca and Chapoy were represented by Holly Dobbs Arnold of Houston and Chris Frantz of McAllen.