FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The New England First Amendment Coalition recently called for stronger protections against strategic lawsuits against public participation (“SLAPPs”) in Maine, emphasizing the need to safeguard the right of citizens to speak about matters of public concern.
SLAPPs are “meritless legal claims that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights,” wrote NEFAC and other media organizations in a June 22 amicus brief.
“While SLAPPs lack merit, defendants are often forced to spend substantial amounts of time and financial resources defending against them; and the mere threat of expensive, protracted litigation, alone, can discourage civil discourse,” they wrote.
A common example is a public figure bringing a meritless libel claim against critics as a way of silencing them or discouraging opposing views. Many states have passed anti-SLAPP laws which provide mechanisms to lower the costs and other burdens of defending against these baseless lawsuits.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court earlier this year solicited amicus briefs regarding potential changes to how the court interprets its own state’s anti-SLAPP law. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and attorney Sigmund Schutz, a member of NEFAC’s Board of Directors and a partner at Preti Flaherty, drafted the brief on behalf of the coalition and other groups.
In the brief, the amici argued three main points:
• The Maine anti-SLAPP law does not violate a party’s right to a trial by jury under the state or federal constitutions.
• The definition of “petitioning activity” under the state law should not be limited to statements made about zoning or other land development matters. Limiting the scope of protected activity under the Maine anti-SLAPP law would further narrow a statute already less protective of First Amendment expressive activity than the majority of other similar statutes across the country.
• The court should not implement a process similar to the one adopted by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Doing so would allow a non-moving party to more easily avoid dismissal and create an end-run around the statute.
News media are “frequently the targets of SLAPPs designed to punish and deter constitutionally protected news gathering and reporting activities,” NEFAC and fellow amici argued. “[Anti-SLAPP protections] safeguard the right to engage in speech on matters of public interest without fear of being subjected to the expense, harassment, and disruption of meritless litigation.”
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. Learn more about how NEFAC is protecting the free press and open government in New England.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Paul and Ann Sagan, The Boston Globe, WBUR, Boston University and the Robertson Foundation.