McCaw Hit with Anti-SLAPP Motion

Journalism Review Fights Back in Court on Libel Suit

We all knew it was coming, and on Monday, January 29, in Orange
County’s Superior Court, it did.

The anti-SLAPP motion
California’s statute aimed at stopping those with money and power
from attacking those armed only with First Amendment-protected free
speech — was evoked as a motion to dismiss
Wendy McCaw
‘s (pictured) lawsuit against
Susan Paterno
, the reporter who wrote “Santa
Barbara Smackdown
” for American Journalism Review.
WendyMcCaw.jpg That article is, to date, considered
the most comprehensive and probing piece covering the
News-Press meltdown, which officially
began in July 2006
with the firing/resignation of nine newsroom
employees. Since then, the number of newspaper employees fired or
leaving under distress has risen to nearly 50. (That number grew by
two last week with the firings of reporter
Anna Davison
and assistant city editor Bob
Guiliano
.)

The anti-SLAPP motion — a
defense that was created by lawmakers in 1992 as a means to defeat
“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP) — was
filed by attorney Charles “Chuck”
Tobin
on Monday as a “special motion to strike.” ajr.jpg The anti-SLAPP statute provides that if
Paterno,
a professor at Orange County’s Chapman University, can show that
“the challenged action is one arising from protected activity,”
then the court “must determine whether the plaintiff has
demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the claim.”

Essentially, if what Paterno did as a reporter is protected by
First Amendment and other constitutional rights, then the judge
must immediately evaluate whether McCaw’s lawsuit has any chance of
success. If the judge determines that this situation does fall
under the anti-SLAPP statute — and according to legal experts
monitoring this situation, it most certainly does — then McCaw
must also pay Paterno’s attorney fees.

The papers filed on Monday then explain in exhausting detail why
Paterno’s work was protected and why McCaw claims are meritless.
See the motion and supporting declaration in
PDF form here
. Also, to remember what McCaw’s side is claiming,
see their lawsuit
here in PDF form
.

In the conclusion of Monday’s filing, attorney Chuck Tobin, a
former journalist, writes, “In passing the anti-SLAPP law,
California’s lawmakers handed citizens a weapon to combat lawsuits
filed by rich and powerful people seeking to clamp down on public
scrutiny of their actions. It is doubtful that legislators
envisioned the statue would be necessary to help defeat the
efforts of a newspaper
— which is supposed to be
committed to the promotion of ideas, not their suppression and
punishment — to silence a freelance writer and the newspaper’s
former journalists. Anyone would be hard-pressed to foresee a
shamefully hypocritical position like the one the
Santa Barbara News-Press has taken in attempting to sue
Susan Paterno and American Journalism Review into
silence.

“The News-Press was once a thriving outlet for reliable
news reporting. In the experiences of many fine journalists who
labored under Ampersand Publishing’s senior management, rather than
the objective chronicle of community news that it once was,
the News-Press is now the personal playground of
Wendy McCaw
and her supporters….”

We couldn’t say it better, so we won’t.

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