Attorneys for Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder have until Aug. 1 to submit a response to a D.C. Superior Court judge concerning the Washington City Paper’s motion to dismiss his $1 million defamation lawsuit against it, a judge said Wednesday.
At a hearing, Judge Todd E. Edelman told attorneys that he will use the Aug. 1 filing and a follow-up response from City Paper’s attorneys to determine if the lawsuit should be dismissed under the District’s new Anti-SLAPP Act or if Snyder can demonstrate that the case should move forward.
Snyder filed suit against the weekly newspaper and its Florida-based owner, Creative Loafing, in the spring, alleging that City Paper libeled him in a Nov. 19 article by Dave McKenna, who is also named in the suit. One of Snyder’s main contentions in the suit is that City Paper falsely reported that he personally “got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications,” a statement he contends that City Paper has admitted it has “no reason to believe” is true but has refused to retract. Snyder is seeking $1 million in damages, plus unspecified punitive damages and court costs.
City Paper’s attorneys contend that the article was not referring to Snyder specifically in regard to the forgery but instead to his company. Snyder’s attorneys, led by Jill Basinger, contend that the reference was about Snyder personally.
Edelman must decide whether Snyder is likely to succeed on the merits of his libel claim, which ultimately requires him to prove that the statements he objects to in City Paper’s article are false and were published with actual malice.
Edelman said he will make a decision after a September hearing.
Snyder’s attorneys asked the judge if they could question the paper’s publisher, as well as McKenna and his editor, so that they could respond to City Paper’s motion. City Paper’s attorneys contended that the publisher had little to do with the article and opposed the request. The judge did not rule on the request at the hearing.
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the suit’s dismissal. The ACLU said the case should be dismissed under the District’s new law that is designed to curtail SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are intended to deter critics by burdening them with costly litigation. Other media entities, including National Public Radio, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, Allbritton Communications (WJLA-TV 7) and WUSA-TV (Channel 9) also joined the ACLU’s filing.
D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), who sponsored the Anti-SLAPP legislation, also joined the ACLU’s brief and called the Snyder lawsuit a “good case” to apply the law aimed at individuals who have “deep pockets” and who might be the subject of a controversial article and consider filing a lawsuit. The law, she said, forces plaintiffs to prove that their lawsuit has merit as opposed to flooding the defendant with mounds of costly legal work.
“This forces both sides to quickly address if there is something to this issue or not,” Che said after the hearing.