This is a significant win and will protect broadcast journalists from frivolous lawsuits. “Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation” (SLAPP) are frivolous law suits filed against journalists and citizens for the purpose of stifling speech and criticism. The goal is not to win the lawsuit, but to force journalists to spend enormous sums in legal fees. The purpose of the legislation is allow citizens to speak out on issues of public interest without facing punitive lawsuits brought by those who wish to silence opposition or criticism.
New York already has an Anti-SLAPP Law (§ 76(a) of the Civil Rights Law). Unfortunately, the courts construed the current law narrowly. It only applies to statements made in the context of obtaining a government permit. In practical terms it covers statements made in disputes over real estate developments, zoning and similar matters. Comments on other matters of public interest fall outside the narrow scope of the current law. Only about a dozen cases have been found to fall within its scope.
The legislation widens the scope of ANTI-SLAPP protection to include all matters of “public interest.”
“Any communication in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; or ii. Any other lawful conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest, or in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition.
The legislation requires judges to award attorney’s fees and costs. It provides that courts “shall” impose an award of costs and fees on those victimized by SLAPP litigation, where the court finds that the case has been initiated or pursued in bad faith.
Section 3 of the bill contains a stay of discovery once a motion to dismiss a SLAPP action has been filed. This prevents SLAPP plaintiffs from using expensive discovery motions to raise litigation costs to a defendant. Again the key issue here is not to allow a frivolous SLAPP lawsuit to chill free speech by forcing citizens and journalists to bear the burden of significant legal expenses in order to defend themselves.
NYSBA has supported this legislation for years. We are happy it has finally passed and moved on to the Governor’s desk.
To see NYSBA’s memo in support of this legislation click HERE.
To see a copy of the legislation that passed click HERE.
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