Defamation can consist of both libel and slander. The California Elements of Defamation are,

  1. publication of a statement of fact
  2. that is false,
  3. unprivileged,
  4. has a natural tendency to injure or which causes “special damage,” and
  5. the defendant’s fault in publishing the statement amounted to at least negligence. 

A often used legal defense against defamation action is something called a “Special Motion to Strike” or in legal terms, a SLAPP Motion. SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” and it is a lawsuit intended to intimidate or silence critics.

It is used in California and some other states to invalidate lawsuits that potentially impact First Amendment rights to free speech.  It essentially is a preliminary hearing of the facts by the judge who if he/she thinks that the case will probably win, will reject the motions and order the case to trial.

Earlier this year (Jan. 2013) in San Diego, a high profile SLAPP case involved Michael Shames, the  former executive director of watchdog Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN). Shames sued for damages for libel, conspiracy, wrongful firing, blacklisting, malicious prosecution, privacy invasion, intentional interference with prospective business relations, among other charges. Shames claimed that the defendants spread false information about him with “malice, hatred and ill will,” leaking information to the press to ruin his reputation.

In a counter-complaint, UCAN sued Shames for breach of fiduciary duty. Shames lost his libel suit against UCAN.

Shames then sued attorney Michael Aguirre, who represents UCAN whistleblowers David Peffer and Charles Langley. Last month (September 2013) Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager ruled against Shames a second time. Shames had sued Aguirre on four grounds, including libel, blacklisting and interference with Shames’s ability to make a living. Aguirre’s lawyer, Maria Severson, filed an anti-SLAPP charge.

You can use California’s anti-SLAPP statute to counter a SLAPP suit filed against you. The statute allows you to file a special motion to strike a complaint filed against you based on an “act in furtherance of [your] right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue.” (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16) If a court rules in your favor, it will dismiss the plaintiff’s case early in the litigation and award you attorneys’ fees and court costs.  In addition, if a party to a SLAPP suit seeks your personal identifying information, California law allows you to make a motion to quash the discovery order, request, or subpoena. (dmlp.org/legal-guide/anti-slapp-law-california)

For expert legal counsel concerning defamation, SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP, call the Law Office of Peter S. Cameron at 619-330-5881 today for a free consultation. If you prefer, simply submit our secure online claim for a prompt reply.  We are here to help you.  

This article is for educational and marketing purposes only.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.