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Texas humorist wins record libel award


On this day in 1962, a jury awarded Texas humorist John Henry Faulk $3.5 million, the largest libel judgment in history to that date. Faulk, born in Austin in 1913, became a popular radio personality in the late 1940s. In 1955 he ran afoul of AWARE, Inc., an influential anti-Communist watchdog firm, in a dispute over control of the entertainers' union. In retaliation, AWARE branded him a Communist. When Faulk discovered that the charge prevented a radio station from making him an employment offer, he sought redress in the courts. Attorneys for AWARE managed to stall the suit for five years, but when the trial finally concluded, the jury had determined that Faulk should receive more compensation than he sought in his original petition. An appeals court subsequently reduced the amount to $500,000, and legal fees and accumulated debts erased the balance of the award. Despite his vindication, years passed before he worked again as a media entertainer. He recounted his ordeal in his 1963 book Fear on Trial. Faulk served on the steering committee for his former mentor J. Frank Dobie's Paisano Ranch, and in 1984, with the backing of J. R. Parten, ran unsuccessfully for Congress. He died in Austin in 1990. The Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin sponsors the John Henry Faulk Conference on the First Amendment.

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