from the can-someone-buy-them-a-Bill-of-Rights? dept
What is it with the state of Georgia and its attempts to stifle free speech and a free press? It’s the state that argues its official copy of the law is covered by copyright and cannot be posted online. The same state that is currently trying to regulate journalism by creating “ethical standards” they have to follow. The same state that is so bad in responding to public records law that an official was actually criminally charged for it?
The latest, as sent in by a few people, is that tonight, Peachtree City, a suburb of Atlanta, is voting on a laughably obviously unconstitutional provision that would allow city officials to file bogus SLAPP suits, using taxpayer funds, against critics. Really. Specifically, the proposal says that the city will provide “coverage for legal expenses when a City official has been defamed in a public media outlet or otherwise slandered or libeled to the public…” It does note that the defamation must be a “valid claim for defamation… under Georgia law.” So, one might argue that filing a bogus SLAPP suit wouldn’t be covered by this policy — but it’s unclear how that will work.
We see bogus defamation lawsuits filed all the time to censor critics, and as a public official, the bar to a successful defamation lawsuit is (for very good reasons) quite high. So, under this proposal, will the city officials have to pay back the city treasury if such a case is tossed out? One would hope that’s the case, but the text of the proposal has no language to that effect. The only language is has regarding reimbursement is that if the lawsuit is “settled in the City’s favor, the City shall seek reimbursement for the actual legal costs incurred in successful pursuit of the defamation ruling by the person or persons committing the defamation.”
It has no provision for what happens when it turns out there wasn’t defamation and the city just wasted taxpayer funds suing critics who didn’t actually defame anyone.
It is already dubious that any public official should ever be suing critics — but to have taxpayers have to foot the bill for SLAPP suits is both deeply obnoxious and unconstitutional, that it seems perfect for Georgia.
The city manager, Jon Rorie, is quoted in a few different articles about this, basically making the same extraordinarily bad point
?I don?t think that someone should have the ability to come in and just said something, that I committed a crime, I don?t think it?s fair,? said Jon Rorie, the city manager of Peachtree City.
Right. And if it’s actually defamatory, then you can sue yourself. You don’t need taxpayer funds to go after someone.
In the other link (up above, towards the beginning of the article) Rorie gets even more ridiculous:
?It?s a brave, new world. It?s not about people criticizing. It?s about being defamed,? Rorie said, noting that such defamation could come from a newspaper or any media, including social media. ?People think they have the luxury of saying false things about people. No one has the right to say I (or anyone working or volunteering for the city) am corrupt and attack me publicly.?
Actually, Jon, you’re wrong. People absolutely do have the right to attack you (verbally) in public. And they can certainly make opinion-based statements, including arguing that actions are corrupt. To actually be defamation, they would need to be making false statements of fact, where they knew the statement was false (or recklessly disregarded the truth) and those statements had to actually harm your reputation. That doesn’t seem to be the standard Rorie is laying out here.
The journalist for the Citizen properly pointed out to Rorie that, even if this is all true, the bigger question is why should taxpayer funds go towards such lawsuits, and Rorie’s answer is telling:
Rorie was asked why use taxpayers dollars to sue an individual. Rorie responded, saying he did not know the answer to that question, adding that the topic is worth discussing in a public meeting and, hence, was put on the agenda.
Seems like the kind of thing you should think about before pushing such a resolution, no?
Filed Under: anti-slapp, defamation, georgia, jon rorie, peachtree city, public officials, slapp, taxpayer funds