The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed a friend-of–the-court brief in support of Seattle television station KIRO, which is fighting a defamation claim by a local religious organization.
Although KIRO’s motion to dismiss was granted by King County Superior Court Judge Bruce Hilyer, the judge did not rule on the station’s argument that the lawsuit violated Washington’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law. In turn, United States Mission Corporation, which filed the suit, has appealed, its argument that the anti-SLAPP law is unconstitutional.
However, as the Reporters Committee brief explained, “anti-SLAPP laws are a judicially efficient means of protecting the rights of speakers and preventing the misuse of the judiciary. They do not inhibit the First Amendment rights of plaintiffs because a SLAPP — by definition — is a meritless lawsuit which a plaintiff has no right to bring.
“Washington’s law, and anti-SLAPP laws more broadly, are instead a valuable shield to be used to protect the First Amendment rights of speakers,” the brief continued.
The case began in 2010, after KIRO ran two broadcast and online reports about U.S. Mission, which had run transitional housing in Seattle. The reports focused on U.S. Mission’s practice of requiring recently paroled criminals to solicit door-to-door. Shortly after the stories ran, the county removed U.S. Mission from its referral list of places to live after leaving jail.
The brief, filed by the Reporters Committee in conjunction with the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, noted that “every court to adjudicate the constitutionality of an anti-SLAPP law has found them to be valid.”
“There is a fundamental difference between retaliation for past protected activity and dismissal and sanctions for a baseless lawsuit,” the Reporters Committee brief argued. “U.S. Mission cannot make a serious claim that meritless lawsuits are entitled to protection under the Petition Clause. It draws false equivalencies between unconstitutional retaliation in response to meritorious lawsuits and procedural screens and sanctions used to dispose of meritless suits.”
The brief is online.
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.
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