June 3, Nevada joined the company of California, Oregon, Washington, Texas and D.C. when Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a strengthened Anti-SLAPP law, which discourages people and corporations from filing lawsuits to silence their opponents.
Spearheaded by First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza and championed by State Sen. Justin Jones, the statute extends protection to journalism, personal opinion, Twitter and Facebook posts and more.
WHAT IT IS
Anti-SLAPP statutes are a response to SLAPP lawsuits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation. SLAPP suits, often filed under the guise of defamation suits, are an attempt by plaintiffs to silence a critic by forcing them through costly litigation to a point where they can no longer afford it and must concede.
WHY THE NEW LAW IS BETTER
Under the previous statute, only speech directed at a government agency was protected — basically when a citizen was engaging in his or her right to petition. “It was so narrow it was almost useless,” Randazza says, noting that the former law didn’t protect the kinds of speech most people engage in — blogging, personal opinion and public debate. Furthermore, the old law protected people from liability, not prosecution. So while they could invoke the anti-SLAPP statute, they had to go through an entire trial and win before the case could be reversed. Now, cases can be dismissed entirely.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Common forms of speech are now protected, not just political speech made toward the government. “It now applies to all of us,” Randazza said. Anyone who posts Yelp reviews or other consumer reviews, uses Facebook or Twitter, shares political or personal views cannot be wrongfully sued. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be successfully sued for libel or slander; it means lawsuits are now able to be evaluated before trial for First Amendment violations.
HOW IT’S USED
When an anti-SLAPP special motion to strike a complaint is filed, litigations halts completely. While waiting for a review, plaintiffs aren’t able to file discovery requests or motions to cost the defendants money. The status also has a SLAPP-back provision, to make sure it’s not used “frivolously or vexatiously” to waste time. If that’s the case, the fraudulent filer can be held liable for the other party’s attorney fees and subject to a fine of up to $10,000.
“I hate to sound like a sound bite,” Randazza says, “but you feel less free in a state that doesn’t have an anti-SLAPP law. A real anti-SLAPP law makes your First Amendment liberties actually meaningful.”