By J. DeVoy
The Public Participation Project (PPP) weighs in on the importance of the Citizen Participation Act, which Marc previously discussed. In the midst of an ongoing war in Afghanistan and malaise over gossamer healthcare reform, PPP notes how a preoccupied Congress and public may overlook this important issue.
With so much happening these days: Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Health Care, Jobs, the Climate, and other big happenings in the First Amendment world, including libel tourism and reporter’s shield legislation, so much ado about some meritless lawsuits may seem misplaced.
[T]he concept of SLAPP has broadened, as judges, academics and practitioners across the country recognize that lawsuits are an increasingly-used weapon against speech that some people and businesses would rather have silenced. If a group of parents complains about the management of their children’s charter school, the response by the school’s management is to sue the parents for defamation. If a union seeks to have local governments issue resolutions against a food manufacturer, the response of the manufacturer is to sue the union for racketeering and conspiracy. If an upstart website posts information about local real estate deals, and names a law firm doing those deals, the law firm’s response is to sue the website for trademark infringement.
Indeed, while the world has been preoccupied with broad problems, the increasing damage done by SLAPP suits has been visible only to victims and their attorneys. Ending this abuse of the courts is an important bipartisan issue. But the Citizen Participation Act is important because of its provisions for wrongly sued defendants to recover fees resulting from the litigation, which currently do not exist under Federal law. PPP summarizes this facet of the bill succinctly and convincingly:
H.R. 4364 has several key components. The single most important component is the ability of a defendant who is hit with a SLAPP to recover fees. This is critical, because it allows a defendant who otherwise could not afford an attorney to secure an attorney on a contingency basis. Second, the defendant can bring a special, early motion to dismiss, and while the judge is deciding the motion, neither party can take discovery. These provisions are absolutely key to protecting a defendant. SLAPPs aren’t typical lawsuits; they do their work through the process of litigation itself. Stopping the process and providing counsel is the only way to combat the SLAPP, which is why normal remedies, like a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, is inadequate.
Of course, this is for nothing if Congress doesn’t pass the bill. If this is an important issue for you – and, as an internet user, it should be – take the time to write your congressman using our template letters. The Citizen Participation Act is the kind of change we all can believe in.