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Libel plaintiff ordered to pay legal fees under anti-SLAPP statute

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  1. Libel and Privacy
CALIFORNIA--In June, a former city attorney was ordered to pay $34,657 in legal fees to the weekly Dixon Independent Voice…

CALIFORNIA–In June, a former city attorney was ordered to pay $34,657 in legal fees to the weekly Dixon Independent Voice under an anti-SLAPP law after suing the newspaper for libel two years ago, according to the Associated Press.

Dixon Court Commissioner David Haft ordered the payment last month based on a finding by Solano County Superior Court Judge William Harrison that the libel lawsuit the city attorney filed in 1997 was a SLAPP suit — a strategic lawsuit against public participation — that was intended to silence criticism.

According to Associated Press reports, former City Attorney Ron Moe sued the newspaper after it published — and then did not retract — a 1997 story quoting a memo from Moe’s successor as city attorney. The memo, sent to the Dixon City Council, said Moe had mishandled a citizen’s legal claim against the city.

After publishing the original story, the newspaper published a follow-up story that quoted Moe’s successor as saying that Moe did not make the errors cited in his memo to the city council. According to Associated Press reports, Moe did not consider the follow-up story to be an adequate retraction and, consequently, he sued the newspaper.

Harrison first ruled in 1998 that Moe’s suit fit the description of a SLAPP action under California law, which permits courts to dismiss defamation lawsuits arising from speech made “in connection with a public issue” and allows the defendants of such suits to recover legal fees.

(Moe v. Independent Voice)