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In Victory for Free Speech, SLAPP Suit is Dismissed

Posted: December 05, 2006|Category: Free Speech

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In a victory for free speech rights, the ACLU announced today that, less than a month after its filing, South Kingstown political candidate Andrew Bilodeau has dismissed his SLAPP suit against Jonathan Daly-LaBelle.

A day before the November elections, Bilodeau sued Daly-LaBelle for defamation based on  his dissemination of a political flier that was critical of Bilodeau’s campaign. The ACLU agreed to represent Daly-LaBelle, and last week, RI ACLU volunteer attorney Karen Davidson entered her appearance in the case on his behalf. In her court papers, Davidson claimed that Bilodeau’s lawsuit was a SLAPP suit “brought with an intent to harass Daly-LaBelle and otherwise inhibit his exercise” of First Amendment rights. SLAPP suits (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) refer to lawsuits brought to chill people from exercising their freedom of speech on matters of public concern.

The flier that Daly-LaBelle disseminated the week before the election stated that “Bilodeau claimed no expenses on his state-required campaign finance report, despite numerous ads and literature put out by his campaign – undercutting his campaign theme of fiscal responsibility and open government.” In writing this, Daly-LaBelle relied on accurate news reports indicating that Bilodeau had not listed any expenses on his October campaign finance report, although he subsequently filed an amended report shortly before the election. Bilodeau’s suit claimed, falsely, that Daly-LaBelle’s flier violated campaign finance laws, and further sought to bar Daly-LaBelle from distributing his flier, but a judge denied that request.

Daly-LaBelle said today: “I feel extremely vindicated, with Mr. Bilodeau dropping his suit against me so quickly. This proves that this case went beyond just this flier I created.  This was an attempt to silence my involvement in local budget and growth management issues.  Hopefully this quick resolution sends a strong message to Mr. Bilodeau, and those he affiliates with, to respect community involvement, even if there are those with which they disagree.” RI ACLU attorney Davidson added: “I am pleased that our intervention in this case prompted the plaintiff to reconsider his position. The quick dismissal of this suit vindicates the importance of the state’s anti-SLAPP suit statute in protecting Rhode Islanders from lawsuits aimed at stifling their free speech rights.”

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