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November 8, 2009

SLAPP Revisited

Filed under: Probable Cause — Bill @ 9:07 am

Bad Disguise - SLAPP copyIn March 2006 I posted Can Bloggers Be SLAPPed? in my Whitecaps weblog.

SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.   A SLAPP suit is a meritless lawsuit filed to intimidate people.  It is intended to stifle both free speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Many states have passed anti-SLAPP legislation.  Idaho has not.  The attitude of some Idaho legislators is that such legislation isn’t necessary because there have been no SLAPP suits filed in Idaho.

That rationale, if it was ever valid, should be reexamined in light of this Idaho Statesman news article dated November 7, 2009.

Typically, a SLAPP suit is “…brought by a developer, a corporate executive, or an elected official to stifle those who protest against some type of high-dollar initiative or who take an adverse position on a public-interest issue (often involving the environment).”  [Garner, B.A. (Ed.) (2004) Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed.). St. Paul, Minnesota:  West]

For an easily readable discussion of SLAPP suits, read SLAPPDash:  FAQs About SLAPPs.

SLAPP suits are often poorly disguised as defamation, interference with contract, or interference with business lawsuits.  Most filers know that they are likely to lose, but their hope is that defendants will be intimidated by the prospects of costly, lengthy pre-trial processes and the trial itself.  The filer’s strategy is to wait out the defendants and drive up the defendants’ costs to the point they can no longer continue to defend against the meritless SLAPP suit.  This process is particularly egregious when the filer is a public entity whose legal counsel is paid with public money.

As noted earlier, many states (but not Idaho) have recognized that SLAPP suits clog up the legal system and are inherently unfair.  About half the states  have passed anti-SLAPP legislation.   Even anti-SLAPP legislation in the states does not prevent plaintiffs from bringing SLAPP suits in federal court.  That is why federal anti-SLAPP legislation has been proposed.

SLAPP suits are a crude but effective way for interested parties to stifle public speech and participation in public affairs.  That’s why federal and state anti-SLAPP legislation is so important.

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