Yesterday, we brought you word that Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder -- in his continuing effort to mount a revenge fantasy in the courts over an old article in the Washington City Paper titled "The Cranky Redskin Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder" -- had subpoenaed the Washington Post to obtain any or all communications between that piece's author, Dave McKenna, and Post sports blogger Dan Steinberg. The subpoena request included "telegrams," because it is apparently the 19th century.
For Snyder and his P.R./legal team, it's growing more and more apparent that this entire effort is aimed at intimidating the media. That's sort of an understatement, actually.
This whole matter began with Snyder's attorney warning the hedge fund that owned the City Paper's publisher, "We presume defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment firm such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the value of the Washington City Paper."
And only last April, Snyder's flack, Tony Wyllie actually told an "Ethics in Sports Media" panel, "Some people ask, are you firing a warning shot at other members of the media, and I'd say yes."
In other words, Snyder is mounting what is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (also known as a "SLAPP" suit), which is defined as "a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition." And Snyder's may be the most ham-handed SLAPP suit of all time, given that they keep publicly telegraphing these specific intentions, and have moved their case to the District of Columbia, a notoriously unfriendly place for SLAPP plaintiffs.
But it gets better! An attentive reader brought something to my attention that I had missed: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn), announced last week in Roll Call that he was going to draft legislation to provide anti-SLAPP protection for all Americans by federal mandate. And you'll never guess who inspired Cohen to act:
Washington Redskins fans no doubt have been enjoying the ongoing legal battle between team owner Dan Snyder and the Washington City Paper, which published a disparaging column about Snyder and his ownership of the Redskins. But Snyder’s lawsuit against the newspaper highlights a much more serious issue -- the need for federal legislation to protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans against strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs.
The City Paper’s column was admittedly harsh but well within the bounds of free speech, especially about a public figure. Snyder was understandably angry, but instead of fighting speech with more speech, he chose to use the courts for his personal revenge. Whatever you may think of Snyder and the Redskins, the courts are not the appropriate forum for resolving these sorts of grudges.
Cohen's legislation is called the PETITION Act (which stands for "Protecting the Expression and Transmission of Ideas and Thoughts In Our Nation Act"), and it would provide a means to put an end to merit-less SLAPP suits before they become too costly for defendants by granting SLAPP victims the means to seek early dismissals, postpone discovery requests and recover costs.
"This bill does not shut the courthouse door to those with valid claims," Cohen says. "It merely provides an expedited process for filtering out suits designed to intimidate and harass citizens exercising their First Amendment rights."
If enacted, this law will be the first time Dan Snyder's actions achieved a positive societal outcome.
"Cohen: Protect Free Speech by Combating SLAPPs," Roll Call