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January 25, 2005

Slapped Down

Good news! The City lost its case against Jeff Nixon and the SaveTCBuilding group for legal expenses the City incurred in fighting Jeff Nixon's lawsuit. The City asked for $41,000.00+ ($36,000+ in legal fees on the part of the City Attorney).

As the judge in the case said, Jeff Nixon's lawsuit was not frivolous; he had legitimate concerns about whether the City Charter required a vote of the public to demolish the building. No doubt! The Court of Appeals thought Nixon's case worthy of a hearing twice (and in one instance halted the demolition of the brick power plant building temporarily), and the Supreme Court once.

No, this was frivolous and indeed personal on the part of the City, and some City Commissioners. If there were a waste of taxpayer money, the waste was in vigorously pursuing a citizen in what can only be considered the first SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) in Traverse City.

If the City had agreed last summer to allow a vote of the public on the demolition of the brick building, the building would have been demolished (and so the City would have gotten what it wanted), and the City would have saved $31,000.00+ of the total spent on a vendetta.

Still, the SLAPPing goes on in communities around us. Anti-SLAPP laws are in effect in 22 states, Anti-SLAPP Bills are pending in 8 states (including Michigan), and advocated in one state.

What are SLAPPs?
SLAPPs -- Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation -- are civil complaints or counterclaims (against either an individual or an organization) in which the alleged injury was the result of petitioning or free speech activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials and entities against individuals who oppose them on public issues. Typically, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as defamation, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.

While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources and thus diverts the defendant's attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.

Every year thousands of people are hit with SLAPPs for such activities as writing a letter to a newspaper, reporting misconduct by public officals, speaking at public meetings, filing complaints with officials over violations of labor laws or health and safety laws, "whistleblowing" in corporations, or organizing tenants.

credit: California Anti-SLAPP Project

Good news in this case, but until the Anti-SLAPP bill is re-introduced in the State Legislature and is enacted, local officials could pull this stunt again.

Posted by Gadflygirl at January 25, 2005 07:14 PM

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