Lawyers for the District filed Tuesday to intervene (PDF) in Dan Snyder's libel case against the Washington City Paper, saying that they have a right to defend a new city law that bars "strategic lawsuits against public participation," or SLAPPs, against claims that the law is invalid.
Snyder, who filed suit (PDF) against the City Paper in April in District of Columbia Superior Court, was hit with a special motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law in June. He responded with claims that the law itself is in violation of the city’s Home Rule Act and the U.S. Constitution.
The city, represented by the Office of the Attorney General, emphasizes in the motion that it isn’t taking sides on the merits of the case, but that “the resolution of plaintiff’s challenge to the validity of the statute could impair the District’s ability to protect its interests.” Both sides agreed to the city's request to intervene.
The anti-SLAPP law went into effect March 31, offering a speedier path to dismissal for defendants in Washington who believe they’re being sued over protected speech. Snyder’s case represents an early test of the law’s applicability in Washington courts.
In defending against the special motion to dismiss, Snyder claimed that the Home Rule Act doesn’t give the District of Columbia Council authority to legislate changes to court procedure. The American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, along with a slew of media and free speech groups, filed an amicus brief in late July defending the law.
While the city, the amicus parties and City Paper have all argued on the law’s behalf, the city’s attorneys write that, “their articulated views, even if they substantially overlap with the District’s, are not the equivalent to the position of the sovereign on important public interest legislation.”
Seth Berlin of Washington’s Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, who is representing the City Paper, said he wasn’t surprised the city moved to intervene, “since Mr. Snyder and his lawyers have decided to try to undo a statue that protects all of the citizens of the District of Columbia.”
Snyder’s attorneys, Patricia Glaser and Jill Basinger of Los Angeles’ Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs, Howard, Avchen & Shapiro, and Richard Smith and Jacqueline Browder Chaffee of Washington’s McDermott Will & Emery, could not immediately be reached this morning for comment.
Snyder has accused the City Paper of publishing false and defamatory information in the November 2010 article, “The Cranky Redskins Fan’s Guide to Dan Snyder.” The paper has stood by the article and the reporter who wrote the piece, Dave McKenna. The paper, its Tampa, Fla.-based owner Creative Loafing Inc., and McKenna are all named defendants in the case.
A motion hearing before Judge Todd Edelman is scheduled for Oct. 14.