Preparation helps to reduce the risk of being targeted. Unfortunately, many people first learn about “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPPs) when they are served with court papers or receive a “cease and desist” letter warning them to stop their activities.
How can you distinguish a SLAPP from a legitimate lawsuit? Although you will undoubtedly disagree with the allegations made by the other side, you are not necessarily the target of a SLAPP. Visit “What is a SLAPP?” to learn more.
If you face a SLAPP, we encourage you to use the resources on this page to help you respond quickly and effectively. Please contact us if you have questions. In certain cases, members of the Protect the Protest task force can provide referrals to pro bono lawyers, campaigning support, and even direct legal support.
As you prepare to defend yourself from a SLAPP, we recommend that you consider the following:
- Find a good lawyer: You will need an experienced lawyer who has appropriate expertise and who preferably understands and supports the type of public interest work that you do. In some cases, lawyers might be available to represent your organization on a pro bono basis. Remember that you usually face a strict time frame in which to respond to a claim, so act quickly.
- Contact your insurance provider: Consult with your lawyer about whether and how you should put your insurance provider on notice. In some cases, your insurance company might want to select the attorney who represents you.
- Organize your records: Begin to collect all materials and communications that you might need to defend yourself from the plaintiff’s allegations. It often helps to make a timeline of all relevant events and to store relevant communications in one place. Do NOT destroy any communications, documents, or materials, even if they portray your actions in a negative light.
- Find out if your state has anti-SLAPP legislation: With your lawyer, learn about what types of protections your state offers against SLAPPs. Anti-SLAPP laws often allow for quicker dismissal of lawsuits and recovery of attorney fees. This can save you significant amounts of time and money.
- Don’t stop campaigning: The purpose of a SLAPP is to silence and intimidate you. A SLAPP bully can damage your reputation (or the reputation of your organization) simply by getting media coverage of the lawsuit. The court of public opinion does not always distinguish between unproven allegations and the truth. Do not let this happen. Consider organizing a high-profile, public campaign to make sure that your story is heard and to send the message that your organization will not be intimidated. Ask other civil society organizations to amplify your message to a broader audience.
- Avoid settlements that restrict your free speech rights: Often the purpose of a SLAPP is to coerce the defendant into signing a settlement that restricts future activities. These contracts are enforceable and can severely limit your future free speech rights.
Please note that the members of the Protect the Protest task force can provide you with a range of strategic, communications, campaigning, and legal support. However, we cannot assist you with attorney fees, insurance, or other costs arising out of SLAPPs. In some cases, public interest organizations are available to provide this support on a pro bono basis.
For support, email us at Info@ProtectTheProtest.org
For more information about SLAPPs, please visit the following pages:
- What is a SLAPP? – Not all lawsuits are SLAPPs. Here are some of the warning signs of a SLAPP.
- Who is vulnerable? – SLAPPs pose a threat to a wide range of individuals and organizations working in the public interest. Here are some recent, emblematic cases.
- Know your rights – You can reduce your risk of SLAPPs by taking certain precautionary measures.
- Our cases – Learn more about the work of the task force and its individual members.
- Help us end SLAPP – There is wide support for ending SLAPPs. What we need now is unified action.