CA Governor Signs Bill to Protect Citizen Lawsuits from Anti-SLAPP Fee Awards

CA Governor Signs Bill to Protect Citizen Lawsuits from Anti-SLAPP Fee Awards
Berkeley, California
August 12, 2009

On August 5, 2009, California Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill to protect citizen lawsuits from fee awards under the California anti-SLAPP law.

The bill, SB 786, by Sen. Leland Yee (D-SF), amends the California anti-SLAPP law to provide that fees cannot be awarded under that law to a defendant who prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a lawsuit when that lawsuit seeks to enforce state open meetings or public records laws.

“The use of the anti-SLAPP law by government agencies . . . has subverted the very speech and petition rights the law in intended to protect,” said Tom Newton, General Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). The bill was sponsored by the California First Amendment Coalition and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, CNPA, and Californians Aware.

This amendment is an important exception to the otherwise general rule that a SLAPP filer should pay the costs of defending against a SLAPP. Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to prevent the use of the courts as a weapon to silence speech about issues of public interest. Citizens who bring good faith suits against the government seeking information they believe is subject to open government laws are not using the courts as a weapon, and should not be ordered to pay the government’s fees if such a suit is determined to be meritless.

The Proposed Citizen Participation in Government and Society Act also protects citizens from fee awards to the government. Although the bill, as drafted, does allow a government defendant to seek early dismissal of a meritless lawsuit arising from petition or speech, it does not allow a successful government defendant to recover fees and costs incurred in the defense.

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