How California’s anti-SLAPP law helped a nonprofit news site prevail in court

IN A CASE THAT HIGHLIGHTS both a point of potential vulnerability for many news startups and the significance of broad anti-SLAPP statutes, a California judge this week dismissed a lawsuit against inewsource.org, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in San Diego.

In the world of media lawsuits, this one was anything but ordinary. The suit had been brought in April by San Diegans for Open Government, a local nonprofit, and though it took aim at inewsource’s basic operating model, it didn’t go directly after the newsroom’s editorial output. Instead, the suit contested the legality of inewsource’s lease with San Diego State University and its media partner, KPBS, with which it shares resources and office space. The suit alleged conflicts of interest in the arrangement, and also accused the news organization of improperly using the trademarks of the university and KPBS.

But from the perspective of inewsource staff and other observers, the suit really was motivated by the outlet’s news coverage. San Diegans for Open Government has ties to a prominent attorney, Cory Briggs, who had been the subject of a months-long investigative series by inewsource. Lorie Hearn, executive director of inewsource, saw the suit as retaliation for the critical coverage of Briggs. The San Diego Union-Tribune agreed, calling it “an insult to the First Amendment” in an April editorial. The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists similarly condemned the lawsuit, saying, “There is a right way and a wrong way to raise complaints about news coverage, and this is the wrong way.

And so last month, inewsource filed a motion to dismiss the suit, citing California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which aims to curb so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The law provides a special opportunity to have a suit quickly dismissed if the action that prompted the suit was taken “in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue.” (Hearn also rebutted the specific allegations in a related legal filing.)

Read more from Corey Hutchins at the Columbia Journalism Review here:

http://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/inewsource_sdsu_cory_briggs.php

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