Skip to content

Senate hearing on Anti-SLAPP bill set for Monday

April 1, 2011

We have gotten official word that The Senate State Affairs Committee will be hearing testimony on SB1565 (The Citizen Participation Act) on Monday, April 4 at 9am in the Senate Chamber. The official notice is available here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/82R/schedules/pdf/C5702011040409001.PDF.

So what is an Anti-SLAPP law?

April 1, 2011

An Anti-SLAPP law is a law that is designed to reduce SLAPP suits– suits against people who exercise their First Amendment freedoms. The First Amendment is not effective if frivolous lawsuits can be used as a tool to block free speech. In Texas this is a particularly sticky problem because there is not an efficient way to get a suit dismissed early in the process.

According to the Public Participation Project, 26 states and the District of Columbia have Anti-SLAPP laws, with one of the strongest being California, and there is an effort to get a federal Anti-SLAPP law passed. The First Amendment Project has an Anti-SLAPP Resource Center full of great information about SLAPP suits.

This year there are companion bills in the Texas House (HB 2974, 2973, authored by Rep. Hunter) and Senate (SB 1565, authored by Sen. Ellis). The Texas law would provide a mechanism for getting a SLAPP suit dismissed and for getting attorneys fees in some circumstances.

 

What is a SLAPP suit?

March 31, 2011

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.

Buy a House and Shut Up- how far corporations will go to keep their customers quiet

March 29, 2011

While at Monday’s hearing on the Texas Citizen Participation Act, one of the citizens testifying mentioned this great 2003 article from the Houston Chronicle’s Rick Casey: Buy a House and Shut Up! The article details a clause that was in a KB Homes sales contract providing fines for home buyers who complained to the media about their homes.

“No Owner may use any public medium such as the `internet’ or any broadcast or print medium or advertising to similarly malign or disparage the building quality or practices of any homebuilder”

According to a later article, the clause was eventually dropped.

Citizen Participation Act Takes Aim at Frivolous Lawsuits: Citizens, Journalists and Homeowners Testify in Support.

March 28, 2011

On Monday the Texas House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence held a hearing on The Citizen Participation Act, a law designed to protect Texans from frivolous lawsuits that target their First Amendment rights. The Citizen Participation Act is a bi-partisan effort at aimed at supporting the rights of all Texans affected by frivolous SLAPP suits.

Author Carla Main

Every Texan, from a rural housewife, to an Austin taxicab driver, to the Better Business Bureau, is a potential target of a SLAPP suit. The Internet age has created a more permanent and searchable record of public participation as citizen participation in democracy grows through self-publishing, citizen journalism and other forms of speech. Unfortunately, abuses of the legal system, aimed at silencing these citizens, have also grown. These lawsuits, called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or “SLAPP” suits. Twenty-seven states and D.C. have laws similar to the Texas Citizen Participation Act.

The Act is comprised of House Bill 2973, sponsored by Chairman Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, and Senate Bill 1565, co-sponsored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

Author Carla Main told the committee that after she wrote a book about eminent domain, a real estate developer filed half a dozen lawsuits, naming her, her publisher, the person who wrote a blurb on the back of the book and a Texas newspaper that wrote a review of the book as defendants. By including the newspaper, The Galveston County Daily News, in the suit, the developer prevented Main from removing the case to Federal Court “where we could have moved to dismiss the case immediately.”

The bill “creates a mechanism to get rid of meritless lawsuits at the outset of the proceeding and it provides for a means to help alleviate some of the burden on our court system,” said Laura Prather, a First Amendment attorney from Austin.

Shane Fitzgerald, Editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Shane Fitzgerald, Editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times told the committee how just last week the newspaper was threatened with a lawsuit for publishing a photo taken on a public beach during Spring Break. Refineries and other industries have threatened to sue newspapers over the publication of public records and safety reports from state agencies. Fitzgerald stated that the paper is threatened with such lawsuits several times a month. The effect of these suits is increased costs to the newspaper and fewer resources available for reporting.

Also testifying was Janet Ahmad, of San Antonio, and the president of Home Owners for Better Building. Ahmad shared details of how she was sued for racketeering by KB homes because she organized protests of the builder.

Committee Hearing Monday for Anti-SLAPP law

March 27, 2011

On Monday, March 28, the Texas House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence is scheduled to hold a hearing on HB 2973, the House version of the Texas Antil-SLAPP Bill.

To those who support the bill, this would be a good time to write members of the committee, write articles and write letters to the editor and editorials on the issue.

The members of the committee are listed on this webpage.

Houston Chronicle Editorial

March 26, 2011

Here is a great editorial on the Anti-SLAPP law by the Houston Chronicle.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/7481344.html

A SLAPP Suit –– The Bully’s Weapon Against Democracy:

March 11, 2011

This Blog is dedicated to supporting the passage of the Citizen Participation Act in Texas.

Citizen participation is the heart of our democracy. Whether petitioning the government, writing a traditional news article, or commenting on the quality of a business, the involvement of citizens in the exchange of ideas benefits our society.

Yet frivolous lawsuits aimed at silencing those involved in these activities are becoming more common, and are a threat to the growth of our society. The Internet age has created a more permanent and searchable record of public participation as citizen participation in democracy grows through self-publishing, citizen journalism and other forms of speech. Unfortunately, abuses of the legal system, aimed at silencing these citizens, have also grown. These lawsuits are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or “SLAPP” suits.
The Solution: The Citizen Participation Act:
Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have passed similar acts, most commonly known as either “Anti-SLAPP” laws or “Citizen Participation Acts” that allow defendants in such cases to dismiss cases earlier than would otherwise be possible, thus limiting the cost and fees. The Texas Citizen Participation Act would allow defendants – who are sued as a result of exercising their right to free speech or their right to petition the government – to file a motion to dismiss the suit, at which point the plaintiff would be required to show by clear and specific evidence that he had a genuine case for each essential element of the claim. In addition, if the motion to dismiss is granted, the plaintiff who has wrongly brought the lawsuit may be required to pay attorney’s fees of the defendant.
Texans are proud participants in their government and in their community. It’s time to tell those who would prevent Texans from petitioning their government and exercising their right to free speech that nobody can mess with free speech in Texas.
SLAPP Suits in Texas:

Texas is no stranger to these kinds of lawsuits. This website will collect examples and provide updates.