What is a SLAPP suit?
A SLAPP suit is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”– they are generally lawsuits without merit (meaning the person who filed them has no case), filed to intimidate and bully those who are petitioning their government or exercising their First Amendment rights.
The First Amendment Project has a great list of typical examples of SLAPP suits. Actions targeted include letters to the editor, petitions, reporting police misconduct, speaking at a public meeting and reporting unlawful activities.
According to the Public Participation Project, “SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice. Rather, SLAPP filers intend to intimidate, harass and silence people who disagree with them or their activities. … The object of a SLAPP is not to win – it’s to get concerned citizens out of the public debate and into court. Once a person is dragged into court, it doesn’t matter that the court ultimately finds the lawsuit to be baseless and that the SLAPP victim’s speech or petition was protected activity.”
You may think that a meritless lawsuit is not a problem because the person sued will ultimately win. But “[b]y the time the court makes that decision, the SLAPP victim has incurred attorney’s fees and endured discovery, the process by which parties in litigation can gain access to the opponent’s records and require depositions in preparation for trial.”
It is an enormous burden to free speech to have the threat of a lawsuit hanging over your head. Tomorrow, I blog about the solution.