- Obama not worried about Ebola at upcoming African summit in D.C.
- Obama: ‘We tortured some folks’ after 9/11
- Obama administration asked whole D.C. Circuit to take on major Obamacare case
- Mark Levin: Topple GOP leadership or country will ‘unravel’
- Massachusetts to let police chief deny gun buys to those deemed unfit
- John Kerry condemns attack on Israeli soldiers, kidnapping
- U.S. starts to evacuate American Ebola patients from West Africa: Report
- Geraldo slammed as ‘dummy’ for backing Clinton’s bin Laden claim
- Israeli spokesman: No need to debate who broke the cease-fire
- 35 Palestinians killed; Israeli officer missing
Md. bill would increase legal protections for outspoken residents
Question of the Day
ANNAPOLIS — A bill under consideration in the Senate would give extra legal protection to residents who speak out against corporations and public figures.
But not everyone is happy about it.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a measure that would crack down on Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, or SLAPP suits — typically frivolous defamation lawsuits filed by wealthy plaintiffs to intimidate a vocal, less wealthy critic into settling out of court and keeping quiet.
The bill could force plaintiffs accused of filing frivolous SLAPP suits to prove their cases as legitimate before a trial can move forward.
Supporters say it will toughen the state’s current laws and save innocent defendants thousands in legal costs, but opponents say it would lift the burden of proof too high for public figures and leave many of them powerless to defend themselves against real defamation.
“You are going to have open season on anybody who holds themselves out there in the public,” said Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, Baltimore County Democrat. “It is a radical departure from what SLAPP suits are supposed to be about.”
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat who says it is designed primarily to protect residents who take stances on public issues, such as neighborhood associations that criticize developers over planned projects that could affect their communities.
It would allow defendants who suspect they are a victim of a SLAPP suit to submit basic reasons for their suspicions.
If accepted by a judge, the plaintiff would then have to make their own case for why the suit is legitimate and should continue.
Mr. Frosh said Maryland’s current anti-SLAPP law, which allows defendants to motion for dismissal before or during a trial, still leaves them open to costly and time-consuming court proceedings and is one of the weakest such laws in the nation.
He argued the current law requires defendants to practically read plaintiffs’ thoughts to prove they are acting in bad faith, and that his bill would force plaintiffs to now lay out a viable case at the start.
“You’ve got to be able to show going in the door that the guy was lying,” he said. “It just provides a shortcut when it’s a SLAPP suit.”
The Senate debated the issue last week and could vote on the bill as early as Tuesday.
While Mr. Frosh contends it will protect everyday residents who are outspoken and opinionated on government issues, some of his opponents say the bill has another purpose — to protect the media from potential libel suits.
Mr. Zirkin argued the bill is being pushed by news organizations and is designed to prevent incidents similar to the case last year in the District in which Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder sued the Washington City Paper over an article he said was defamatory.
The lawsuit dragged on for several months until Mr. Snyder dropped it before a court could rule on the newspaper’s request for dismissal under the District’s anti-SLAPP law.
Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican, said Maryland’s current law is just fine and that Mr. Frosh’s bill is unreasonably hard on well-meaning plaintiffs.
“It would put an undue burden upon somebody who is trying to defend themselves,” he said. “I think that everybody deserves their day in court and we shouldn’t be harming those who are trying to defend themselves.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
David Hill joined The Washington Times in February 2011 as a Maryland political reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Md. drivers could face eventual doubling of gas tax
- Federal appeals court restores Maryland's concealed carry law
- Md. bill would end student suspensions for mimicking gun behavior
- Maryland Senate passes bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana
- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell assailed on transportation
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
By Orrin G. Hatch
Procedural changes impede the chamber's traditional deliberative function
- Border agents cleared of civil rights complaints from illegal immigrant children
- Ben Carson takes major step toward presidential campaign
- U.N. condemns Israel, U.S. for not sharing Iron Dome with Hamas
- Obama military strategy too weak for future security, panel reports
- Porn-surfing feds blame boredom, lack of work for misbehavior
- House GOP resurrects border bill, predicts successful Friday vote
- Feds raid S.C. home to seize Land Rover in EPA emission-control crackdown
- Ted Nugent slams 'lying freaks' at liberal media: I'm 'doing God's work'
- CRUZ: A tale of two hospitals: One in Israel, one in Gaza
- Pentagon wants extra $19M to equip, train Ukrainian troops
Top 10 U.S. military helicopters
Obama's biggest White House 'fails'
Celebrities turned politicians
Athletes turned actors