Pennsylvania Lawmakers Move Forward On Anti-SLAPP Legislation
from the pleading-the-First dept
Pennsylvania is looking to become the 30th state in the US to have an anti-SLAPP law on the books. Bogus defamation lawsuits and legal threats have long been used as blunt force weapons to silence critics and unflattering media coverage. It's only in recent years that legislators have recognized the damage being done.
The case central to this legislative push is a prime example of why such laws are needed.
[Angelique] Smith, 40, a mother from Delaware County enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, gave some of the most personal and passionate testimony at the hearing.Smith was sued in January of 2009 by Dorothy June Brown, a partner in a company (The Cynwyd Group) that allegedly defrauded three charter schools out of millions of dollars ($5 million from the Agora Cyber Charter School alone -- the school Smith's daughter was attending), charging for "management services" that apparently were never performed. Brown was also a founding partner of the Agora school, which created a conflict of interest that drew the attention of the state's charter school oversight as well as the state itself, both of which sued the school. (Both lawsuits were settled out of court.) Not coincidentally, the parents (including Smith) raised the same allegations in 2008, drawing the attention of Brown, who sued six parents in total.
"My daughter, my husband, and myself have been held hostage for five long and arduous years by an injustice of the worst kind," she called out, according to transcripts and onlookers. The suit, which seeks a total of $300,000 from her and her husband, has been delayed numerous times, she said.
"We nonetheless anguish in silence, and our personal relationships suffer," she said. "This has nearly destroyed my marriage."
She and her husband have spent $5,000 fighting the suit and have defaulted on their home mortgage along the way.
Brown sued Stefany and five other Agora parents who had raised questions about the school's finances and its relationship with Cynwyd. Brown's firm owned Agora's building in Devon and collected management fees from the school.All of these cases are now on hold, pending the outcome of the government's case against Brown -- which will determine whether these "impressions" of corruption and criminality are, indeed, false. To date, Brown has been acquitted on six charges -- which leaves 54 others undecided.
The slander suit Brown filed in Montgomery County alleges the parents had made comments "that give the clear but false impression that Dr. Brown is corrupt, incompetent, and possibly criminal."
Brown's slander lawsuits were clearly filed in hopes of silencing detractors, seeing as they were filed just as Brown's school (and company) were being investigated by both state and federal agencies. Whether or not the charges against Brown stick, the parents obviously had genuine concerns about the school's co-founder. "Corrupt, incompetent and possibly criminal" seem to describe the activity federal investigators uncovered. The only thing that remains is for a jury to decide whether the "possibly criminal" acts are genuinely criminal. But while that drags on, Smith and five other parents are living their lives in the shadow of looming legal action -- something a strong anti-SLAPP law would likely have neutralized months or years earlier.