Trial date set for Leach defamation case against alleged victim

BREWSTER COUNTY — A trial date of December 12, 2022 has been set for the defamation suit brought by Basecamp Terlingua owner Jeff Leach against a former employee who accused him of assault.

Leach sued Katy Milam, who also goes by Schwartz, in 2019 for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress when she told authorities that Leach had held her down and said “he gets what he wants.” The suit has since then been dismissed, made its way through an El Paso appeals court, and been returned to trial court in Brewster County where it now awaits trial.

Judge Stephen Ables had initially tossed the suit in early 2020, stating Milam was protected by free speech laws, but the Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso reversed that decision in May, citing missed deadlines.

The dismissal in 2020 was made under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which protects people from being sued for exercising their legal rights, and which comes with a statutory 60-day deadline for a hearing on the dismissal, though an extension to 90 days can be granted. Because the dismissal in the case was granted past the 90-day deadline, the appeals court determined that while the reasons for the missed deadline were understandable — including a reshuffling of judges when the first recused himself and the second was objected to by Leach — it could not ignore the statute. 

Though the civil suit drags on, a criminal case against Leach was recently dismissed. After Leach sued Milam, several other women came forward with accusations of rape and assault — one of those accusations led to Leach’s indictment on a felony sexual assault charge. The case had been poised to go to trial, but the office of 83rd Judicial District Attorney Ori White in May filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing insufficient evidence. A judge subsequently signed off on the dismissal. The woman whose accusation had led to Leach’s indictment, Shawna Graves, submitted a statement to the court opposing the dismissal.