Updated at 3:21 p.m.
In a widely watched case, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder this morning re-filed his defamation lawsuit (PDF) against the Washington City Paper in District of Columbia Superior Court. He'll be keeping Los Angeles-based attorney Patricia Glaser as lead counsel, but adding McDermott Will & Emery to the line-up on the local end of the litigation.
Snyder first sued the paper in February in New York State Supreme Court for New York County over a 2010 City Paper feature that Snyder has argued contains numerous “egregious falsehoods.” The paper has stood by the article, and its attorneys said today that they plan to fight the suit under Washington’s recently-enacted Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Act.
Snyder announced his decision to move the case out of New York in a Washington Post column posted online last night, citing “legal reasons” for the change in jurisdiction. Glaser (pictured right), in a phone interview this afternoon, confirmed that because Snyder dropped New York-based Atalaya Capital Management – cited at the time as the paper’s owner – as a defendant and added Washington-based City Paper reporter Dave McKenna, the change in venue made sense.
Richard Smith, a McDermott partner with both sports and First Amendment litigation experience, confirmed that he’ll be serving as local counsel but referred questions about the case to Glaser.
The lawsuit stems from McKenna’s Nov. 19, 2010 cover story on Snyder, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder,” although Snyder, in his complaint, also accuses the paper and McKenna of launching “an ongoing campaign against Mr. Snyder to smear his business and personal reputation through the publication of false and malicious articles” starting in 2009.
Snyder is suing over several sections of the article he claims are “egregious falsehoods”; he also accuses the paper of publishing an anti-Semitic depiction of Snyder with horns on his head, among other misrepresentations. Glaser said that any damages awarded would go to charity.
City Paper publisher Amy Austin has defended the paper, as well as McKenna, throughout the entire affair. The paper set up a legal defense fund asking for donations from the public to help pay to fight the litigation.
“We still stand by the story and our reporting on it,” she said in a phone interview today.
The paper’s lead attorney, Cahill Gordon & Reindel partner Floyd Abrams (pictured left), said the suit is without merit and is based on a misreading of the article that “the law does not permit any recovery for.” Cahill attorney Brian Markley and Florida-based solo practitioner David Snyder are also representing the newspaper.
“I thought the suit was frivolous when it was filed in New York, and it’s no less so in the District of Columbia,” Abrams said in a phone interview today.
Abrams also said that by filing in Washington, Snyder had opened the door for a motion to dismiss based on the city’s recently passed Anti-SLAPP Act (PDF). The law was passed in late 2010, and is designed to provide a special remedy in cases where a defendant believes they are being strategically sued in order to quash public participation or speech.
The case has played out in the public arena, from the paper's online legal defense efforts to Snyder's decision to announce his decision to re-file in Washington in the Washington Post.
In his column, Snyder said he was pursuing the lawsuit because he felt the paper had crossed the line between criticism and defamation.
“I honor vigorous free expression in the media. But even a public figure can sue for defamation when a tabloid paper publishes a harmful assertion of a fact, not an opinion, that it knows to be false or recklessly disregards the truth,” he wrote.
The paper has disagreed, saying on its legal defense fund site that it has received wide public support since Snyder first filed the suit in New York.
“This is about showing Snyder you support our right—and anyone's right—to write the truth about him, or any powerful public figure, even if it's not flattering,” Austin wrote in a letter on the defense fund site.
The case has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Todd Edelman. An initial scheduling conference is scheduled for July 29.
An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that case information was unavailable from D.C. Superior Court.