Joel Dillard

Representing Mississippi Workers

It's time of Mississippians to SLAPP back

Today's post is by the associate Jay Kucia.

There are a lot of things that divide Mississippians today--politics, religion, and football just to name a few. But I think there are some things that are so against our shared values that they actually bring us together in opposition. I would say that two of these things are frivolous lawsuits and censorship. However, many of my readers might be surprised to know that there is a common legal practice that combines these two evils and makes them even more offensive. This practice is the SLAPP, and it is time for Mississippi to put an end to it.

Let me explain. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. These are lawsuits that powerful politicians and corporations use to try to silence those who would dare to criticize them. Here’s a typical situation. Albert is a factory worker at a plant in rural central Mississippi. One day, the factory lays Albert off. When he gets home, Albert has a couple of beers and, unwisely, logs onto Facebook. In a moment of anger and sadness, Albert makes a Facebook post. In this post, Albert says, “The factory laid me off today. Guess they don’t want anybody who won’t put up with their illegal crap.” The next day, one of the managers at Albert’s old firm sees Albert’s post. Within a week, Albert’s old factory sues him for defamation.

Now, here’s the thing. It might seem to us that Albert has not actually defamed anyone. It probably does seem clear that Albert’s old factory is just trying to shut him up and keep him from saying things that might hurt the company. We might expect a court of law to dismiss this frivolous lawsuit out of hand. We would be wrong.

One of the blessings and curses in American law is that anyone can sue anyone else for anything. Courts usually toss out frivolous lawsuits at some point, but that doesn’t stop the harm these lawsuits can do. In Albert’s case, he may well have to hire lawyers to defend him against his old company just so he doesn’t get stuck with a default judgment. But, just to avoid that problem, Albert will likely have to pay court costs and attorneys’ fees which, since he just lost his job, he can’t afford. This is the catch-22 that politicians and corporations can put ordinary people in through SLAPP lawsuits.

This problem has led thirty-one states to adopt what are called anti-SLAPP laws. These are laws that protect everyday people like Albert from powerful interests that would like to silence or bankrupt them. These laws are actually pretty simple. When someone gets SLAPPed, these laws give them the power to ask the court to quickly dismiss the SLAPP suit. These laws can stop the SLAPPer from engaging in invasive discovery fishing expeditions and can even require the SLAPPer to pay the victim’s legal expenses. These laws are powerful tools to end corporate and political abuse of our courts and protect the free speech rights of everyday people.

In this upcoming session, the Mississippi Legislature should pass an anti-SLAPP law. It would not be that difficult to do. Other Southern states like Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, and Louisiana have passed anti-SLAPP laws, and Louisiana’s is one of the best in the country. Our legislators should follow the lead of these states and protect the right to free speech from those who would abuse it. It is time for everyday Mississippians to come together to stop censorship by unscrupulous political and corporate power players. If you believe that Mississippi should SLAPP back and end these dangerous and frivolous lawsuits, please call your state representative and senator and ask them to sponsor an anti-SLAPP law.


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