During the August meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary, Representative Jason Nemes and I presented anti-SLAPP legislation before Senate and House committee members. I have filed anti-SLAPP legislation since 2019, and am very encouraged that it is moving forward in the legislative process. This particular legislation reflects extensive research and best practices that the Uniform Law Commission put into crafting a model bill in 2020 for consistent use in courts nationwide.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) are complaints filed to intimidate individuals and deter them from speaking out in public forums. This threat of costly, long-term litigation has been used to silence whistleblowers, journalists, and political protestors across the country. Examples of SLAPP suits range from restaurant owners threatening defamation suits against customers who leave negative reviews on a website and developers suing citizens protesting the use of eminent domain in their neighborhood. Even sexual assault victims have been threatened with SLAPP suits in an attempt to silence them from going public.
Over twenty states have passed free speech laws designed to counteract this phenomenon and protect peaceful protests and rigorous journalism from frivolous, bad faith lawsuits designed to silence speech. In many of these states, anyone who is subjected to a SLAPP can petition a judge to immediately dismiss the case if their speech dealt with a matter of public concern. However, in many states these laws are still narrowly written. Kentucky is one of the handful of states with no legal protections against SLAPP suits, and the state legislature must work to pass a law that protects the people of Kentucky from these meritless suits.
We should make it easier, not harder, for all Kentuckians to participate in civic life and exercise their First Amendment rights. By passing these new protections, Kentucky will be a leader in protecting free speech rights. We can accomplish this by passing legislation that:
- Allowing judges to dismiss SLAPP suits that target constitutionally protected speech
- Requiring courts to adjudicate the suit within a reasonable period of time
- Allowing judges to award attorney’s fees and costs to the victim of a SLAPP suit to deter future frivolous litigation
This bill has broad bipartisan support, and organizations like the ACLU, Americans for Prosperity, Pegasus Institute, Kentucky Open Government Coalition, Kentucky Press Association, and Public Participation Project all support it strongly.