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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bloggers Test Anti-SLAPP Law in Defamation Suit

Shirley Sherrod
There is a case pending in Washington, D.C. that involves the intersection of blogging and defamation and tests D.C.'s brand new anti-SLAPP law.  SLAPP stands for "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" -these injunctive laws are designed to provide defamation defendants immediate substantive protections against meritless libel suits -suits filed solely to silence a particular voice.

We all recall when former federal employee Shirley Sherrod had a video of her public comments edited and blog-posted by the recently-deceased conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart.  The [deceptively] edited video made Sherrod, then a USDA official, look like she was making publicly racist comments about a white farmer seeking USDA assistance to save his farm from foreclosure.

In fact, Sherrod's un-edited statement showed she was telling a story from her past to illustrate the possibility of racial reconciliation.  The truth came out too late, however, to save Sherrod's job at the USDA.  And when it finally did come out, Sherrod rejected the Obama Administration's public apology-laced offer of re-employment.

Instead, she sued Breitbart and his assistant in the District of Colombia Superior Court for defamation; the defendants removed the case to federal court.  Sherrod claimed that the video intentionally and deceptively altered her public comments, causing her loss of employment and stress that has now affected her health.

The defendant-bloggers claimed they were merely expressing a political opinion through posting the edited video and filed a motion to dismiss the suit on anti-SLAPP grounds.  The motion was denied by the trial judge and oral arguments on the appeal were heard by the United States District Court for the District of Colombia last month.

A decision in the case is expected soon.

We here at the Law Blogger await this decision to see how the D.C. anti-SLAPP legislation fares in one of the first, and certainly most high profile, cases to test the law governing free speech through blogging, and its limits, in our nation's capital.

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