City Desk

Judge Dismisses Eric Payne’s Lawsuit Against Natwar Gandhi Under Free Speech Law

Eric Payne is still suing the District government and Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi (pictured above) for allegedly firing him over lottery contract whistleblowing,  but he won't be able to sue them for defamation. In a ruling yesterday, a Superior Court judge threw out Payne's defamation lawsuit by using D.C.'s anti-SLAPP law, which bars so-called "strategic lawsuits against public participation."

Payne, the former director of contracts for Gandhi's Office of the Chief Financial Officer, had tried to sue Gandhi for telling the Washington Post last year that he was fired for poor management skills instead of raising concerns about the lottery contract. Superior Court Judge Laura A. Cordero disagreed, throwing out Payne's lawsuit after judging that Gandhi's comments fell under anti-SLAPP grounds because Payne was a public figure.

It's a novel use of the law, which was intended to help defendants with few resources avoid a costly legal battle over a frivolous suit. The District government, after all, isn't exactly a cash-strapped citizen defending itself against a wealthier adversary in Payne.

As you may recall, Washington City Paper attempted to get Pigskins owner Dan Snyder's defamation lawsuit dismissed on anti-SLAPP grounds; Synder ended up dropping it before the court ruled.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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