Restraining Orders as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)

Posted on May 4, 2016


Not a day goes by when a search engine query doesn’t lead someone to this blog because s/he wants to know whether speech on Facebook can be prohibited by the court.

Lawfully…maybe. If someone sends communications TO someone else after the someone else has repeatedly requested that s/he be left alone, this can be labeled “harassment,” and a judge can “properly” issue an injunction forbidding further contact.

If, however, a person merely makes remarks ABOUT another person (even a so-called “private figure”) or otherwise expresses his or her view on something, that’s his or her constitutional right (see the First Amendment). Americans are guaranteed the freedom to criticize one another, as well as their government, and judges have no business poking their noses in…which doesn’t mean they won’t if invited. A person merely making remarks ABOUT someone can still be sued. Anyone can be, whether on meritorious grounds or frivolous or vexatious ones.

Enter the “SLAPP,” or, Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Lawsuits whose motive is to silence critical speech by intimidation are SLAPPs. They typically allege that an opinion is “defamatory.” There can be no defamation in opinion, but that doesn’t matter.

SLAPPs work because being sued is stressful and expensive. Only about half of states have anti-SLAPP laws on their books and their content varies significantly, as well as do targets’ means to hire attorneys and prosecute a defense. (For just this reason, a federal “Speak Free Act” has been proposed.)

Making matters worse, how SLAPPs are used, particularly when they take the form of restraining order petitions, is by alleging a constellation of offenses that may be utterly false but can nevertheless be very persuasive.

The writer of this post is the defendant in three such litigations right now. The complainants don’t like what I’ve reported or opined about them. They haven’t, though, alleged that I’ve been unkind in my characterizations; they’ve claimed they’re afraid for their lives, that they’ve been harassed, that they’ve been defamed, that they’ve been stalked, that they’ve been sexually aggressed against…that kind of thing. The more frenzied of the two women who are prosecuting me—a woman who emailed me four years ago calling herself an “avid reader” of the blog and calling the other woman who’s prosecuting me a “sociopath”—today says she’s packing a gun. (I’ve seen this person once in 10 years: I consented to join her for coffee, and afterwards she hugged me.)

You see how it works: You make your allegations lurid to distract from your real motive, which is to shut somebody up who’s making you look bad (because you are bad).

Commenters on this blog have reported having restraining orders petitioned against them because the plaintiff owed them money or because they had knowledge of the plaintiff’s commission of a criminal act, like drug abuse, tax evasion, or violence, including rape.

In instances like this, restraining orders are SLAPPs. They’re meant to make sure the defendant is gagged and subdued.

As SLAPPs is just another way restraining orders are abused.

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