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Politics

One Michigan lawmaker wants to end so-called SLAPP lawsuits

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One Michigan lawmakers wants to end the practice of SLAPP lawsuits - those are lawsuits filed specifically to harass or intimidate a defendant.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP lawsuits, are suits specifically filed as a way to silence critics.

Democratice State Representative Kara Hope sponsored legislation prohibiting them. She said these kinds of lawsuits typically feature an imbalance in power and resources - for instance when a large company sues an individual.

“It’s basically a contest of who has the most money, who can afford legal representation, who can bide their time in the court system and wait the other party out.”

Hope cited a 2010 case where a Western Michigan University student was sued for $750-thousand after creating a Facebook group complaining about a local towing company.

“He was legally parked, he had a permit to park where he was and he criticized the towing company and they sued him,” she said. “He didn’t defame the towing company but he still had to try and defend himself in court.”

According to the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, which tracks anti-SLAPP laws, roughly 30 states have some kind of anti-SLAPP law on the books.

Representative Hope said the goal of her legislation is to protect free speech, and to make it harder to bring SLAPP lawsuits.

“It would give the court a chance to look at the case and make the plaintiff, the party bringing the lawsuit, demonstrate they have a legitimate case and aren’t just trying to silence critics.”

If a court finds that a case does not have a basis to move forward, defendants can be awarded up to three times the amount of cost of defending themselves against the lawsuit, including reasonable attorney fees and other expenses.