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January 08, 2005

ACLU ... Where Art Thou?

I emailed Senator Liz Brater's (District 18) office the night of the City Commission meeting of 1/3/05 during which a city commissioner was barred from her elected duties by our City Attorney (and supported by four other commissioners). I asked the status of Sen. Brater's Bill 1195. The following is taken from Sen. Liz Brater's website:

"I recently introduced legislation to protect citizens exercising their constitutional right of free of speech from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP.) Developers, gravel pit owners, and even public employees have filed libel and slander suits against citizens who express their views in public settings to protect natural resources, protest public decisions, or serve as whistleblowers on illegal activities. These lawsuits have an intimidating effect on citizen efforts to express their views. Our democratic system relies on the ability of citizens to express their views freely in a public forum.

When developers and others threaten citizens with lawsuits, citizens often lack the resources to defend themselves in the legal system. Therefore, this legislation provides for dismissal of such cases, prescribes fines for those initiating such cases, and allows for recovery of attorney fees. Also, it conveys immunity from civil lawsuits to citizens communicating with governmental units or public officials regarding public policy. This bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary committee and is awaiting action."

Much to my surprise (responses are slow in coming, if at all, in Traverse City) I received a phone call the very next day from one of her aides and was told this bill will be re-introduced within the next two weeks. Sen. Brater's office is also interested in getting the ACLU involved.

The SLAPP actions are taking place all over the U.S. (except for 22 states where it is illegal and 9 states pending) and it would seem in Northern Michigan in particular. The Tondu lawsuit for $810 million against Manistee is the most obscene in terms of dollar amount … but in actuality, the most obscene is what is happening in Traverse City against a lone activist citizen, who supports this community in every way (and believes he is supporting this community in his activism). Obscene because this is a case where the city is going after someone for expenses in answering his lawsuit, and casting a wide net, under the guise of discovery, in pursuing him. This means others, who have no stake in this action, are being subtly and not so subtly threatened, subpoenaed and having to hire attorneys themselves.

ACLU … if ever there were a cause for your involvement, this is it. What is taking so long? Do you have to be invited? Hired? What?

Posted by Gadflygirl at January 8, 2005 12:29 PM


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