Angel v. Winograd

December 21, 2015

Marcy Winograd appealed a California Superior Court’s denial of her anti-SLAPP motion after being sued for allegedly defaming a local petting zoo by writing online articles and publicly protesting what she believed were inhumane conditions at the zoo. The Superior Court found evidence establishing actual malice based on the fact animal control officers found no violations after investigating the zoo and Winograd continued objecting to the zoo conditions, relying on her own personal observations and information from two trusted sources. In an amicus brief, the Reporters Committee and five other media organizations urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse the Superior Court’s unprecedented interpretation of the actual malice standard. By finding that Winograd acted with actual malice because her speech was inconsistent with government findings, the trial court essentially concluded that speakers cannot question government employees without risking defamation liability. The holding would give the government the ability to dictate the truthfulness of statements in defamation cases. Besides ignoring years of actual malice jurisprudence, the trial court’s interpretation of actual malice conflicts with the purpose of the First Amendment and would deter journalists from investigating the government and reporting on matters of public concern.