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Texas appeals court declines to intervene on Astroworld litigation gagging order

By | Published on Thursday 8 June 2023


Appeal judges in Texas have declined to force the lifting of a wide-ranging gagging order that is in place regarding the ongoing litigation over the 2021 Astroworld tragedy.

Ten people died and hundreds more were injured when a crowd surge occurred during Travis Scott’s headline set at the Houston-based festival he founded.

As a criminal investigation got underway to ascertain if decisions made by event organisers before or during the festival contributed to the crowd surge, hundreds of those affected by the incident filed lawsuits, including the families of those who died.

Various entities were named as defendants in all that litigation, although Scott himself and the festival’s promoter – Live Nation and its Scoremore subsidiary – were the primary targets. With the total number of lawsuits filed ultimately exceeding 400, all the litigation was consolidated to make it easier to manage, with judge Kristen Hawkins appointed to oversee the proceedings.

She subsequently issued a court order restricting what plaintiffs and their lawyers could say about the lawsuits in public, concluding that such restrictions were necessary to ensure a fair trial if and when the litigation ended up in court before a jury.

As a result, while some of the lawyers working on Astroworld cases had initially been very vocal online and in the media, there has since been very little commentary and therefore relatively little reporting on the lawsuits as they slowly work their way through the motions.

Although last October, one lawyer, Tony Buzbee, confirmed that one of his clients – the family of Axel Acosta, a 21 year old who died during the crowd surge – had settled their lawsuit. It was also reported at the time, and subsequently confirmed via court records, that the family of another festival-goer who had died, sixteen year old Brianna Rodriguez, had likewise settled.

Meanwhile, ABC News has been trying to get the gagging order put in place by Hawkins overturned, taking the matter to the Texas appeals court last year. Specifically, the news broadcaster sought a writ of mandamus, which is when a court mandates a lower court or government agency to fulfil their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.

In its legal filing last year, ABC News said that Hawkins’ order was in violation of “constitutional principles”, adding: “The gag order has restricted the flow of accurate, newsworthy information not only about the Astroworld litigation but also about the Astroworld festival. Since the court issued the gag order, individuals with even a remote connection to the Astroworld festival have been silenced for fear of violating its broad and vague provisions”.

But appeal judges have declined to intervene. Providing no explanation for that decision, their judgement on the matter reads: “ABC News has filed a petition for writ of mandamus challenging the trial court’s gag order prohibiting attorneys and others involved in the underlying litigation from speaking publicly about a range of topics related to the litigation, and the trial court’s order denying ABC News’s motion to reconsider the gag order. We deny the petition”.