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Federal anti-SLAPP bill gets hearing; Texas’ state anti-SLAPP law hailed as a success

This month marked the fifth anniversary of a state law that Texas media outlets have successfully used to dismiss meritless lawsuits filed to silence reporting on matters of public concern.

TAB helped pass the state’s anti-SLAPP law, the Citizen Participation Act, in the 2011 Texas Legislature.

SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation“.

SLAPP lawsuits often take the form of a defamation suit filed to intimidate a person from speaking out on an issue by making it too costly and burdensome to continue to do so.

Texas is one of 28 states that have an anti-SLAPP statute.

Last week a Texas congressman’s federal bill to combat such frivolous lawsuits finally received its first House hearing.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice heard H.R. 2304, the SPEAK FREE Act, on June 22.

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, filed the bill last summer.

TAB supports passage of Farenthold’s proposal because it will help dismiss meritless lawsuits, reduce federal court backlog, and protect First Amendment free-speech rights.

Also, Texas’ state anti-SLAPP law does not apply to suits in federal courts.

The Texas law’s fifth anniversary was marked last week by an Austin symposium on the measure co-sponsored by TAB, TAB Associate member law firm Haynes and Boone, the Texas Press Association, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for Justice and the Austin American-Statesman.

The lively, and at times emotional, discussion focused on the positive impact of the law as a defense tool for Texas media outlets as well as for private citizens.

Former KTXS-TV news director and anchor Paul Brown moderated the session which featured bill author state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi; Justice Jane Bland, Texas First Court of Appeals; Bama Brown, iHeartMedia Austin; Terri Burke, Texas ACLU; and Laura Prather, Haynes and Boone, LLP.

Prather was the lead attorney in the effort to pass the Texas Citizen Participation Act.

Bama Brown noted that if it weren’t for the state law, and the strong backing of his employer iHeartMedia, he would have faced personal financial ruin because of a lawsuit that was meant to silence his broadcasts concerning a controversial proposed cement plant in a bedroom community near Austin.

The Texas law is hailed as a success because it provides a timely mechanism for a dismissal of a meritless lawsuit, which in itself saves legal defense costs, as well as another provision which can require the losing party to pay the winning party’s legal fees.

The federal proposal is also meant to stop such nuisance lawsuits in their tracks.

Farenthold said his measure would “make it easier for those who are victimized by abusive lawsuits to silence their voices [to dismiss] early litigation proceedings before they rack up thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees."

Prather, testifying before the House subcommittee last week, noted there were three reasons why passage of a federal anti-SLAPP law was needed.

“First, there is a patch-work of state laws in the area creating an invitation for forum shopping and inconsistent application of laws; second, there is a split of authority as to whether state anti-SLAPP laws apply in federal court; and, third, even in those states that have anti-SLAPP statutes, they generally do not apply to federal claims."

The SPEAK FREE Act has bipartisan co-sponsorship of more than 30 U.S. House lawmakers.

Questions? Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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