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City councilwoman withdraws libel suit against blogger

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Baltimore city councilwoman withdrew her libel suit against a local blogger on Monday after she said it became clear…

A Baltimore city councilwoman withdrew her libel suit against a local blogger on Monday after she said it became clear she could not win.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway sued Examiner.com blogger Adam Meister in May for libel, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Meister reported that, even though Conaway represents Baltimore’s Seventh Electoral District, she lives in Randallstown, Md., in violation of the Baltimore City Charter. To support his assertions, Meister relied on a sworn statement signed by Conaway, and homestead property tax exemption records that identify Conaway’s Randallstown home as her principal residence.

According to news reports, Conaway’s lawyer said in court they were withdrawing the suit in light of the fact that she had signed an affidavit listing the Randallstown address as her home, something that she and her lawyer had just recently discovered.

“I’m very happy,” Meister said Tuesday. “It was so frivolous and ridiculous to begin with, I was confident from the start that we would win.”

Meister said that the suit was burdensome, despite the dismissal.

“When I first heard about this, it was May 10, and they didn’t serve me until June 1. From May 10 to June 1, the burden was ‘Are they going to serve me? I’ve got to find a lawyer, everyone is telling me to find a lawyer,’” he said. “It took away from seeing family of mine, I had to talk to lawyers on the phone instead of going to an event, little things like that. . . . Once I was served, I really had to be careful, because I knew it was real. I had to be careful about what I wrote. I realized that was part of what they were trying to do here — I just kept thinking: ‘I have to be quiet.’”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted a friend-of-the-court letter brief to the judge in the case, Conaway v. Meister, urging him to apply the Maryland “anti-SLAPP” statute, designed to create faster dismissals for strategic lawsuits against public participation, which are cases filed to intimidate or punish people for exercising constitutionally protected rights.

Meister said he will now have to think twice before criticizing public officials in his blog.

“It is a learning experience,” he said. “I’m going to think in a more liability-centric manner now, and maybe after I write a story one day, I might think ‘Am I going to get sued?’ I can’t say this hasn’t changed the way I think a little bit.”