Making Public a Petroleum Club Member's Libel Claim

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Downtown's Petroleum Club is known for its stuffy, gilded golden rooms where an exclusive membership of businessmen do the foxtrot on Saturday nights and swap stories about the good ol' days. And Justin Renfrew-Hill, who was at one point listed as an officer for the club's Young Professionals Association, will have a hell of a tale to tell next time around.

Renfrew-Hill, an insurance man who you may have seen wearing a red Mohawk wig on an old Houston Texans billboard, is suing a man in Tennessee for libel, and in a way, blackmail. He claims that James Carroll Jr. of Nashville has ruined his good name by emailing numerous people that Renfrew-Hill was running an illegal betting pool.


According to the lawsuit filed in Harris County District Court, because Carroll was upset that his attempts to blackmail Renfrew-Hill into giving him a free trip Ireland - the top prize in the betting pool - had failed.

Renfrew-Hill claims that he helped run a golf pool, of which he and Carroll participated. No cash was ever awarded, but prizes, such as a trip to the Emerald Isle, were. Renfrew-Hill states that when he did not give Carroll the free trip, Carroll sent an e-mail out to a bunch of people, some who had nothing to do with the betting pool, saying that Renfrew-Hill was running an "illegal gambling" operation.

This, Renfrew-Hill, claims, was libelous.

His attorney, Kevin Wiley Jr. of Dallas, says that Carroll thought he had won the trip to Ireland, though in fact he had not. "So," says Wiley, "what he did was threaten Mr. Renfrew-Hill, saying, 'I'm going to turn you all in to the state bar, the insurance regulators and the sheriff's office because I believe you're running an illegal pool that I didn't win.' Blackmail was the motivation."

Wiley says that the betting pool was not illegal under Texas law because no one profited.

As a result of the e-mails, Renfrew-Hill claims, he was suspended from work while his bosses looked into the matter, causing Renfrew-Hill to lose more than $3,000 in pay.

Wiley says that Carroll has not yet been served with the lawsuit; Carroll declined to comment.

Renfrew-Hill claims that the e-mails injured his reputation and exposed him to "public hatred, contempt, ridicule, and ... impeached his honesty and integrity."

Here's the thing about filing a lawsuit like this, though. Once it's in the courts, it's public record, so now everybody knows.

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