Suit against Mother Jones dismissed under “anti-SLAPP” law
CALIFORNIA–Another libel suit has fallen victim to California’s anti-SLAPP law.
In late October, Judge Ernest Hiroshige dismissed a libel suit filed in state court in Los Angeles by former Republican media consultant Don Sipple against Mother Jones magazine. The dismissal came in response to a motion by the magazine which asserted that the suit was barred by the state’s anti-SLAPP law, designed to curb “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits.
Sipple was a media consultant for several Republican candidates, including George Bush, Bob Dole and California Gov. Pete Wilson. However, he resigned from Vito Fossella’s New York congressional campaign after Mother Jones printed an article by reporter Richard Blow about allegations that Sipple had abused two of his ex-wives.
Blow’s article detailed allegations made against Sipple in the course of a 1992 custody case in Missouri. During the dispute between Sipple and his first wife, Regina Sipple, both Regina and Deborah Steelman, his second wife, accused him of beating them.
Both in court and in Blow’s article, Sipple denied the allegations.
James Chadwick, the magazine’s attorney, said that the motion to dismiss relied on the fact that most of Blow’s story was based directly on testimony from the custody hearing and that even the out- of-court statements included in the article filled in details about the alleged beatings but added no new information. Because California law allows the press to fairly and accurately report about court proceedings, Chadwick said, Sipple would have to prove that Blow had deliberately reported allegations that he knew to be false or had recklessly disregarded the truth.
“They sort of defeated their own case on that one,” Chadwick said. “They introduced a bunch of statements from people that Blow talked to who told him that Sipple wasn’t a wife-beater. But he included them in his story. That just shows that he checked the story out before writing it, which tends to defeat a claim of actual malice.” (Sipple v. Foundation for National Progress; Media Attorney: James Chadwick, Los Angeles)