“Are politicians too SLAPP happy?,” by Dave Goetz, Forest Park Review, 18 October 2005, http://forestparkreview.com/main.asp?SectionID=3&SubSectionID=3&ArticleID=695&TM=79561.24 (from Google News via Junk Politics).
A bit ago I wrote about how Activa Holdings is exploiting Canadian law to sue a blogger. Now a politician from an Illinois public school district is at it:
There have been some epic battles in our times. SC vs. Notre Dame, Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Godzilla vs. King Kong. The most recent addition to this list is Welch vs. Nyberg. Welch vs. Nyberg?
In September, Emmanuel â€˜Chrisâ€˜ Welch, Proviso District 209 School Board President, sued local resident, Review columnist, blog owner, and political gadfly Carl Nyberg for defamation. The lawsuit refers to specific postings on Carlâ€™s political blog Proviso Probe, www.provisoprobe.blogspot.com.
After reading the headline my first reaction was that this is a SLAPP suit. SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Characteristically these lawsuits are filed by developers, large business interests, and elected officials against their vocal opponents. The lawsuits are filed quickly, without much legal research, because the goal is not necessarily to win the suit, but to intimidate the under funded, legally ignorant, naysayers. By the time the case is dismissed, and the vast majority of the SLAPP suits are, the zoning changes have been passed, the needed land has been condemned, the plaintiff has achieved itsâ€™ objective.
The political purpose of SLAPP suits by politicians is to stop what they perceive as withering and stifling criticism from the portion of the public that isnâ€™t buying what they are saying. The suit or even the threat of a lawsuit is used to keep people from writing letters to the editors, jumping on web sites or blogs, or other forms of free speech. It generally happens locally where the media exposure is limited. Iâ€™m sure President Bush would have loved to move Cindy Sheehan away from his ranch during his vacation but any type of legal action on his behalf would have created a firestorm of bad publicity. Too many TV cameras. The same is not true on the local level.