Anti-SLAPP laws on trial
Mark Goldowitz, Founder and Director of the California Anti-SLAPP Project and President of the Board of Directors of the Public Participation Project, was recently quoted in a Feature article by Emily Miller at Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
“SLAPPs have a really detrimental effect on people’s First Amendment rights,” said Mark Goldowitz, president of the board of directors of the Public Participation Project. “Those federally adopted procedures would only be applicable in federal court. It essentially would allow people to invoke protections against SLAPPs regardless if the state they are sued in has anti-SLAPP legislation.”
The Public Participation Project works to protect citizens from SLAPP suits and is one of the groups pushing for a federal anti-SLAPP law.
Goldowitz said there are two fairly recent SLAPP suits filed in D.C. that demonstrate the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law.
The first is a $2 million libel and defamation lawsuit against Washington City Paper that was brought by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
Snyder filed the lawsuit in February 2011, three months after City Paper published a critical piece about Snyder’s actions since he acquired the team in 1999.
According to Goldowitz, Snyder originally filed the suit in New York, which has very weak protection against SLAPP suits. After City Paper pointed out there was no basis for the suit to be filed in New York, Snyder dropped the case in New York and re-filed it in Washington, D.C.
City Paper attorneys filed a motion to have the case thrown out in June 2011, citing the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act. The motion froze Snyder’s lawsuit in discovery until the judge could rule on the matter.
Snyder dropped the suit last September, days after The Washington Post ran an editorial that called Snyder’s battle a “losing argument” and pointed out that anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent this type of costly legal action.
Goldowitz said the second case is a July 2011 defamation suit brought against MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.
Preacher and Christian rocker Bradlee Dean sued Maddow and NBCUniversal for defamation, claiming she twisted his words when airing a segment of his radio show.
Dean originally filed his complaint in D.C. Superior Court where Maddow filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the suit was an attempt to stifle her free speech. Dean then voluntarily dismissed the case and filed a virtually identical complaint in federal court where the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act does not necessarily apply.
In June, the D.C. judge ordered Dean to pay Maddow’s attorneys fees.
Goldowitz said these cases show the strength of the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act and highlight the fact that not all states have that kind of protection. Without federal protection, he said, people can work the system to evade existing state protections.
“There are major loop holes in our nation’s system in protecting against SLAPPs and only federal anti-SLAPP legislation could plug those loop holes,” Goldowitz said. “People manufacture reasons to file in weak jurisdictions. The only way to stop that would be to have federal law.”
Golodwitz said strong opposition from trial lawyers has surfaced this year, which has slowed down the introduction of a bipartisan bill.”