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Washington appellate court upholds political speech and discovery provision under anti-SLAPP statute

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A Washington state appellate court reversed the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, holding that “speech connected to a political campaign…

A Washington state appellate court reversed the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, holding that “speech connected to a political campaign and candidate . . . clearly are matters of public concern.” The court also held that the statute’s stay on discovery is not unconstitutional.

When Bradley Toft ran for the Washington State Senate in 2012, Kelly Spratt, a former employee of Toft’s and a fellow Republican, vocally opposed his candidacy. She claimed Toft had an abusive management style that the entire company had problems with.

Toft responded by saying Spratt had been fired and was a disgruntled former employee, while Spratt maintains she resigned voluntarily. Spratt claims Toft wrote an anonymous letter accusing Spratt of harassing Toft.

Spratt sued Toft for defamation, and Toft responded with a motion to dismiss under Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court denied the motion, but the appellate court reversed, finding that Toft’s statements about Spratt were made in response to a person challenging his candidacy and therefore were on a matter of public interest. The case is remanded to the lower court to determine whether Spratt is likely to succeed on the merits.

The court noted the irony that, if Toft had sued Spratt instead of the other way around, Spratt also could have claimed the same protections under the anti-SLAPP statute.

Spratt had also claimed the statute’s provision that stays discovery pending resolution of the anti-SLAPP motion was unconstitutional as it prevented her from proving her defamation claim and denied her access to the court.

The court held the provision is not unconstitutional because it includes an option for trial courts to allow discovery if good cause can be shown.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· SLAPP Stick: Fighting frivolous lawsuits against journalists