City Desk

Lanny Davis, SLAPP Law Defender

Lanny DavisHere at Washington City Paper, we've spent all too much time over the past year contemplating judicial proceedings. The absurd lawsuit Dan Snyder filed, then refiled, and then ultimately abandoned before a judge could toss him out of court may have ended with a free-speech victory, but it cost a lot of time and heartache.

More fun than actual, courthouse justice: Poetic justice.

One small example of the latter came last week via a sharp report from Huffington Post DC. Legal eagle Arin Greenwood filed a blog post concerning the second-ever challenge to D.C.'s new SLAPP act, the law that forbids plaintiffs from filing weak lawsuits merely to sock defendants with legal fees as punishment for some constitutionally protected speech.

The SLAPP act, of course, was what this publication asked a court to apply to Snyder's lawsuit. We argued that the defamation case was really about damaging a paper that had repeatedly criticized his blunders. In response, Snyder claimed that federal law forbids D.C.'s citizens from adjusting court rules the way citizens in the 50 states can. The ACLU and the city's attorney general, among others, disagreed with the Redskins owner's argument.

Not that Snyder was all alone: One of the big names he got help from earlier in the case was Lanny Davis, a former Clinton administration lawyer more recently known for his work on behalf of several unsavory third-world dictator types. Davis briefly provided PR help to promote Snyder's knuckleheaded case against the paper.

Anyway, imagine our surprise to read in the Greenwood's piece that Davis is now a little guy on the receiving end of his own multimillion-dollar defamation lawsuit—this one filed by the 3M corporation, which has accused him of defaming the company and trying to extort money. Davis says that's not true, and is fighting the case in court.

Luckily for Davis, D.C. law provides one nice remedy for small fries who are faced with a legal threat from a giant conglomerate. That's right—the SLAPP law. "There can be no serious dispute that the statements about which 3M complains qualify as 'act[s] in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest,'" Davis' legal team wrote in an October filing.

Which is where the poetic justice bit comes in. 3M, you see, just filed a response that echoes the legal argument pioneered by Davis' old pal, Dan Snyder: The Minnesota firm says the terms of D.C.'s limited home rule mean District lawmakers didn't have the right to pass a SLAPP law, and the court should therefore let the case against Davis proceed.

Oops.

For a lot of reasons, we really don't want to see the SLAPP law overturned. But if the anti-home-rule argument succeeds, undercutting D.C.'s voters and possibly exposing Davis the the years of legal turmoil that a case might entail, he can thank his pal Dan for the assist.

Photo via YouTube

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  • Adam L

    Even in states where the legislatures do have control over the courts, SLAPP offenders have found a very easy loophole around the laws: get your case transferred to federal court. Thus far, most federal judges have ruled that state SLAPP laws do not apply in federal courts and the cases have gone forward. At the end of the day, there just needs to be a Federal SLAPP act.

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