Fredda Hollander, an activist-journalist who will appear before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Monday, has given me permission to post the affidavit (pdf) I wrote for her at an earlier stage of her case. It’s a public document, but given that I was paid to write it, I wanted to check in with her first.
The issue at stake is fairly complicated, and really doesn’t have all that much to do with libel, even though her claim is related to a libel suit filed against her. A North End developer, Steven Fustolo, is suing Hollander for libel in connection with articles she wrote for a local newspaper, the Regional Review. Hollander counters that she did not libel Fustolo, and that his suit is a form of harassment covered by the state’s anti-SLAPP law. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”
The anti-SLAPP statute — similar to ant-SLAPP laws in other states — is designed to protect political activists from being harassed by their well-heeled targets, who can afford to abuse the legal system as a form of intimidation. The law specifically states that “petitioning” activity is protected. Hollander’s lawyer, Harvey Shapiro, argues that the grassroots advocacy journalism Hollander engaged in qualifies as “petitioning” in the sense that she was attempting to influence government decisions.
The implications for bloggers and citizen journalists are potentially huge. Not only are such folks frequently motivated by their strong opinions on local issues, but they are far more vulnerable to being damaged by a meritless libel suit than would an established news organization. (Please note that I am not saying Fustolo’s suit is meritless. I am merely saying that, if it is, then Hollander deserves to be able to use the anti-SLAPP law in order to persuade a judge to dismiss his claim.)
Unfortunately I will not be able to attend Monday’s argument because of a family matter. Assuming all systems are go, I’ll be watching the webcast instead.