Connecticut Lawmakers Drop Anti-SLAPP, Libel Tourism Bills On The Governor's Desk
from the MOAR-SPEECH dept
Some good news for free speech is emerging in Connecticut. In the first bit of good news, an anti-SLAPP law has been unanimously passed by legislators and is headed for the governor’s desk.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved and sent to the governor’s desk Monday a bill to enable defendants who are exercising First Amendment rights to more easily seek dismissal of some lawsuits intended to silence them.
“It’s a bill to protect people against ‘libel bullies,’” said Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously last week.
If passed, this would lower the number of states without anti-SLAPP laws to 21, which means there’s still a lot of work to do if there’s any hope of preventing forum-shopping by censorious litigants. The bill provides for the filing of anti-SLAPP motions by defendants who feel a libel suit has been filed simply to shut them up. It also prevents the court from advancing the case further — most importantly, blocking discovery attempts by plaintiffs — until the special motion has been ruled on.
Under this law, libel litigants would need to show a “preponderance of evidence” in support of their lawsuit’s claims at the early stages of litigation, helping decrease the costs of defending against defamation claims. In addition, court fees and legal fees would be awarded to the defendant if the anti-SLAPP motion is granted. This deterrent will hopefully prevent bad faith litigators from filing lawsuits just to waste defendants’ time and money.
Unfortunately, the law also requires the defendant to make the same evidentiary showing first, which kind of turns anti-SLAPP motions into a pre-trial trial where both parties are given evidentiary burdens during a preliminary set of motions. This somewhat subverts the purpose of the bill, which is to reduce defendants’ costs prior to litigation. This is the part of the law the ACLU would like to see removed before it will offer its support.
(Weirdly, the ACLU also wants the language to the bill to exclude commercial speech, which it doesn’t feel should be elevated to the level of other protected speech. The problem with this is that it would give bad faith litigants a way to dodge anti-SLAPP motions simply by pointing to advertising on defendants’ websites or defendants’ use of personal social media accounts to promote their businesses, etc.)
It’s not a perfect anti-SLAPP bill, but it’s far, far better than the state continuing without one.
The other good news is the passage of a bill targeting “libel tourism.”
The House on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation that would protect Connecticut residents from libel suits file in other countries.
The bill, which also cleared the Senate unanimously, is now headed to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for signature. If signed into law, it would prohibit enforcement of libel judgments in countries with defamation standards lower than those in Connecticut.
This bill is somewhat redundant, considering the US government already shields US residents from foreign libel lawsuits under the SPEECH Act. To overcome this, foreign libel litigants would have to file in a country with comparable free speech protections and deal with Section 230 protections, if they’ve chosen to target the easiest defendant to serve, rather than the individual involved in the alleged defamation.
But a little extra legal protection never hurts, especially if a libel tourist somehow manages to avoid US federal jurisdiction when suing a US resident. That being said, it’s a pretty safe bill to pass and it’s apparently turning one legislator into a Connecticut resident’s personal hero.
[Senator Joe] Markley introduced the bill at the request of a Cheshire resident, and he expressed pleasure Wednesday that a constituent’s bill garnered approval.
Representatives that actually represent their constituents: an unexpected, but lovely, touch.