Ken at Popehat -- a lawyer -- describes the pro bono action he fought on behalf of Michael Hawkins, the scienceblogger behind For the Sake of Science, after Hawkins found himself threatened with a lawsuit by Christopher Maloney, a "naturopath" whose methodologies Hawkins had pointedly questioned and mocked. Maloney's wife, a member of the Maine legislature and an attorney, sent a lengthy legal threat that implied that the couple had already sued Hawkins, and which proposed to ask a judge for an injunction against any site on the web that reposted Hawkins's criticism ("a Maine state legislator just suggested that a Maine court should issue an injunction prohibiting unnamed, unserved people — potentially including you — from re-posting what Mr. Hawkins had to say about Dr. Maloney.").
Ken took Hawkins's case for free, along with First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza, and local counsel Jed Davis of Mitchell & Davis PA. The lawyers told the "naturopath" and the lawyer/legislator that they believed that their complaint qualified as a SLAPP (strategic litigation against public participation) and all claims against Hawkins were waived.
Ken uses the stirring story of his victory as a call to arms to other bloggers to get educated about their local anti-SLAPP statutes, and to stand up to bullies who threaten them.
Across America, censorious SLAPP threats like the one Dr. and Ms. Maloney sent to Michael Hawkins succeed every day. They succeed because most defendants aren’t as smart or determined or brave as people like Michael Hawkins or Rhys Morgan. (I am not throwing the first stone at anyone who yields to a SLAPP threat. I can’t.) They succeed because most defendants don’t understand their First Amendment rights. They succeed because most defendants don’t know a First Amendment lawyer. They succeed because most defendants don’t have the money to fund a lawsuit. They succeed because many jurisdictions don’t have an effective anti-SLAPP statute. They succeed because many lawyers who care about the First Amendment aren’t in the position to do pro bono work, or worry that they don’t know the issues well enough or that it will take too much time. They succeed because the American legal system is, for the most part, set up to make it easy for plaintiffs to extort defendants without significant risk.
Do you care? If you do, good. Whether you are a lawyer or a blogger or concerned citizen, you can do your part to change all that.
Boing Boing fought and won an anti-SLAPP defense against a BS lawsuit from MagicJack, who had to pay more than $50,000 worth of our legal costs for their trouble.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.