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Reporters Committee brief supports constitutionality of Washington state anti-SLAPP law

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle (9th Cir.) urging it to uphold the constitutionality of Washington state’s anti-SLAPP law.

Anti-SLAPP laws, which have been enacted in 28 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territory of Guam, were designed to ensure that so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation do not chill speech or financially cripple speakers by, essentially, suing them into silence.

Seattle firefighter Steven K. Castello sued two of his co-workers for defamation and other claims after they accused him of threatening and violent behavior at work. The two firefighters also appeared on local television talking about low morale in the Seattle Fire Department. The District Court dismissed Castello v. City of Seattle under the anti-SLAPP law, ruling that the other firefighters’ speech was covered under the statute and that Castello was unlikely to prevail against them. He is appealing that decision, arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Anti-SLAPP laws “are not tools to deprive plaintiffs of redress of their legally protected injuries, and [the Reporters Committee] does not claim that the legislative measure can or should be used to deny, for example, the subject of a false, defamatory and non-privileged report his day in court," the brief argued. “Rather, the laws are designed to help alleviate a dangerous chilling effect on vital public speech by expeditiously terminating unfounded claims that threaten constitutional speech rights – claims, simply put, that should have never been brought in the first place.”

“The majority of anti-SLAPP laws strike a balance between protecting people’s right to file a bona fide legal claim and speakers from lawsuits that would suffocate their speech under the weight of a lawsuit,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The Washington anti-SLAPP law did not infringe Castello’s constitutional right to file a lawsuit. Because he could not show that he was likely to prevail in court — the legal standard under the Washington anti-SLAPP legislation — the law kicked in to ensure that public speech was not chilled by the cost of defending an unfounded claim.”

The Reporters Committee brief is posted on its website.

About the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.