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Washington strengthens state anti-SLAPP protections

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  1. Libel and Privacy
An enhanced version of a Washington state law that protects individuals against frivolous lawsuits intended to quash critical speech was…

An enhanced version of a Washington state law that protects individuals against frivolous lawsuits intended to quash critical speech was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday.

The amended anti-SLAPP statute, which is intended to discourage Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, will cover more types of speech, allow judges to dismiss meritless lawsuits more quickly and award attorneys fees in lawsuits that are dismissed.

Washington was the first state to enact anti-SLAPP legislation, but the previous law covered only claims based on statements made to government officials in the course of government decision making. More than half of states have anti-SLAPP laws and federal legislation was earlier this year introduced in Congress by Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen.

Media attorneys helped draft the changes, which are modeled after California’s statute – one of the most protective in the country. 

Seattle attorney Bruce E.H. Johnson, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine who worked on the anti-SLAPP legislation, stressed the importance of allowing defendants to recoup attorneys’ fees.

“Frankly, after 30 years of defamation defense, I was tired of defending meritless libel lawsuits, and then telling clients that they had no basis for getting reimbursed for the expenses incurred in getting rid of the case,” Johnson said.

The new law will take effect in June 2010.