Did Donald Trump Just SLAPP Bill Maher?
Last week, Donald Trump filed a breach of contract lawsuit against comedian Bill Maher in Los Angeles Superior Court. The lawsuit stems from a joke that Maher on an appearance on Jay Leno poking fun at Trump’s birther claims about President Obama. Maher said that he would donate $5 million to a charity if Trump could prove he wasn’t the “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.” Trump then sent Maher a copy of his birth certificate, and when Maher refused to pay the $5 million, Trump filed the breach of contract suit.
Unfortunately for Trump, California has one of the strongest anti-SLAPP laws in the country. SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice, but rather SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend against meritless lawsuits. Many states, like California, have sought to combat SLAPPs by enacting anti-SLAPP laws, which allow SLAPP targets to get these baseless suits dismissed quickly and relatively painlessly. SLAPPs can take many guises, from defamation claims to breach of contracts claims like the one Trump brought.
It is possible that Maher will get the last laugh in this suit if he successfully invokes the anti-SLAPP law, which would require Trump to pay his attorney’s fees. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law, “act in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue” includes any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest. If Maher can prove that his statement about Trump was made in connection with an issue of public interest, he could prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion.
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Watch Maher’s response to the lawsuit here: