Free Speech Press Release

05.15.14

Online Journalist Successfully Defended Against Lawsuit Intended to Silence Criticism

New ACLU Online Toolkit Will Help Others Facing SLAPP Suits

CLEVELAND – The ACLU of Ohio, along with co-counsel David Halperin of Washington, D.C., successfully defended an online journalist and Huffington Post contributor after a federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Murray Energy Corporation. The lawsuit was filed after the journalist, Mike Stark, wrote an article that was highly critical of Murray Energy Corporation and its owner Robert E. Murray and alleged defamation, false light, and invasion of privacy. Such lawsuits are commonly known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation or SLAPP suits, and are intended to silence criticism and dissuade individuals from exercising their First Amendment rights.

“Unfortunately, SLAPP suits are nothing new. As long as our nation has been in existence, individuals have tried to manipulate the legal system to silence others,” said ACLU of Ohio Managing Attorney Freda Levenson. “The Court’s decision sends a strong message that our First Amendment rights will not be restricted by cynical lawsuits designed to frighten others from speaking out.”

Judge Gregory Frost of the Federal Court for the Southern District of Ohio dismissed the Murray Energy Corporation’s SLAPP suit on May 12, 2014.

Additionally, the ACLU of Ohio today released an online toolkit for individuals who may be subject of a SLAPP suit. The toolkit includes tips for activists, a history of SLAPP suits, examples of recent trends in SLAPP suits, and a compilation of other organizations who work to defend free speech.

“If you have ever spoken at a school board meeting, written a letter to the editor, posted a blog, or circulated a petition, you might be subjected to a SLAPP suit,” said ACLU of Ohio Policy Researcher Jocelyn Rosnick. “Exercising your free speech rights is the very cornerstone of what it means to be American, yet SLAPP suits are filed everyday to discourage people from participating in our democracy.”

“Many individuals are helpless to defend themselves against these lawsuits, and either give up altogether or spend thousands of dollars on legal expenses,” added Rosnick. “By providing this toolkit, we hope individuals are better informed of their rights and prepared to assert their First Amendment rights.”

The ACLU of Ohio’s toolkit is available at: http://www.acluohio.org/slapped