Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has been waging a legal war with the Washington City Paper for many months now over a story that appeared in that newspaper -- Dave McKenna's "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide To Dan Snyder." Months after the article had been published, read, enjoyed, and forgotten about, Snyder got this idea in his head -- put there by his P.R. lackey, Tony Wyllie -- that he should take the paper to court over the matter, and ensure that the original article got an even wider audience than it ever had on its own.
When last we left this saga, the Washington City Paper had filed its response to the suit in D.C. court. The response had two key features. First, the paper made clear its intentions to seek a swift dismissal of the case on the grounds that it was, in essence, a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or "SLAPP" suit. SLAPP suits basically entail an attempt from a deep-pocketed plaintiff to intimidate critics in the public square by threatening them with onerous, potentially bankrupting legal claims. As it happens, Washington, D.C., has enacted a very strong anti-SLAPP statute -- the City Paper is the first defendant to put it to the test.
The second feature of the City Paper's filing was an extensive collection of supporting material, serving to back up McKenna's original reporting on matters that both pertain to the suit's specifics as well as the total body of work in the article itself.
Now, Snyder has countered with a filing of his own. The City Paper's managing editor, Mike Madden, summarizes it thusly:
In a response to our motion, filed last night shortly before an 11:59 p.m. deadline, Snyder argues the anti-SLAPP law is unconstitutional, because the D.C. Council didn't have the authority to pass it; that even if it is constitutional, it doesn't apply in this case; that he's going to win the lawsuit; and that our special motion to dismiss was frivolous.
"This motion was brought solely to delay these proceedings and to put pressure on Mr. Snyder to settle his claims," the filing reads. "Defendants' 'Hail Mary' should not be rewarded."
That "Hail Mary" line is awfully rich coming from a guy whose team is planning to start Rex Grossman at quarterback in the coming season.
But I digress. The good news, I suppose, is that Snyder's legal team is implicitly acknowledging the fact that they're attempting to mount a strategic lawsuit against public participation. That's a matter from which they can't run. In their initial filing against Atalya Capital Management, the hedge fund that sits atop the corporate pyramid owns the City Paper, Snyder's lawyers indicated as much when they wrote: "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."
Wyllie even went in front of an "Ethics in Sports Media" panel and said: "Some people ask, are you firing a warning shot at other members of the media, and I'd say yes."
Snyder's legal team also clearly did not enjoy having to page through the reams of supporting material that the City Paper sent along in support of their original reporting. That's understandable, considering how well it backs up McKenna. So, in a novel legal motion of their own, they're seeking to have the evidence thrown out and are insisting that the City Paper now pay the costs of having to read it in the first place.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: Articles I have posted on these pages continue to find their way into the legal filings of both sides. Thanks for the clicks, lawyers!)
TBD has the essential rundown of what Snyder is objecting to and why.
The bad news here is that Snyder's chances of prevailing over the city's anti-SLAPP statute aren't that bad. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple wrangled the opinion of one legal eagle yesterday, and the long and the short of it is that the city's footing, in terms of passing their own laws and fulfilling self-governance, is never that secure. In this case, the Home Rule Act that allows for the D.C. Council to exist in the first place effectively neuters D.C. lawmakers by barring them from enacting rules that govern local courts.
Madden notes that City Paper has gained the support of two D.C. Councilmembers, who will defend their anti-SLAPP statute.
By opening up another legal front against the D.C. Council, Snyder's legal team is taking a difficult case and making it more complicated. For the gang that couldn't even spell McKenna's name right in their own briefs, this edges very close to "reach-exceeds-grasp" territory.
But even if Snyder succeeds in the legal realm, the recent filing is another major failure in the world of public relations. There's almost nothing that rubs Washingtonians more raw than reminders of the limitations imposed on their representation in Congress and their rights to pursue self-governance. This legal tactic may help Snyder avoid a quick dismissal of his suit, but it's sure to alienate Redskins fans who reside in the District.
Of course, there is a rich tradition of Redskins owners alienating Washingtonians -- former owner George Preston Marshall did it with racism. For more on how Snyder continually alienates Redskins fans, might I recommend McKenna's "Cranky Guide"?
The Redskins will begin what promises to be another season of mediocrity on Sept. 11, when they play the New York Giants at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.