Friday, May 24, 2024

Feature Article: Understanding Arizona’s Anti-SLAPP Laws

Social media has enabled individuals to express their opinions publicly. This has increased the likelihood of defamation lawsuits against those whose opinions may be unpopular or go against established interests. However, not all lawsuits are genuine and may be strategically designed to silence criticism. Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) have become common, but Arizona has taken a firm stance against them.

What is a SLAPP Lawsuit?

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are lawsuits aimed at preventing individuals from exercising their free speech rights. The lawsuits typically involve defamation, libel, or slander claims against those who have criticized or spoken out against the plaintiff. These lawsuits are often designed to exhaust defendants financially, discourage them from future criticism and suppress their free speech rights.

Explaining Arizona's Updated Anti-SLAPP Laws

Arizona's Anti-SLAPP law was passed in 1994 and was updated in 2021 to align with the evolving tactics employed by plaintiffs. The updated law outlines the legal tests for a SLAPP motion to be granted, making it clear that the defendant's speech was protected and that the lawsuit against them was frivolous. An individual or business who has been sued in a SLAPP suit can file a SLAPP motion, the judge will then evaluate the case to determine if it meets the criteria for a SLAPP suit. If a plaintiff fails to meet the standards, they may be ordered to pay the defendant's legal fees.

What is Considered Free Speech?

Speech that is protected under the First Amendment, such as criticism of public officials, is considered free speech. The First Amendment also protects peaceful protests and political expression.

Are there Federal Anti-SLAPP Laws?

No, there are currently no federal anti-SLAPP laws. However, some states have passed their own anti-SLAPP laws.

Arizona’s Anti-SLAPP Laws vs. Other States

Arizona is among 30 states in the U.S. that have anti-SLAPP laws. However, these laws differ from state to state in regards to the legal standards for evaluating a SLAPP lawsuit and the ability to recover legal fees. Arizona's updated anti-SLAPP law is considered one of the strongest in the nation because it places the burden of proof on the plaintiff to demonstrate their claim.

How Does Filing an Anti-Slapp Motion Work?

After receiving a SLAPP lawsuit, the defendant can file a special motion to dismiss called a SLAPP motion, claiming that the suit is frivolous and intended to stifle their free speech. If the judge agrees that the plaintiff's lawsuit is a SLAPP suit, the plaintiff will be required to pay the defendant's attorney fees. In Arizona, filing a SLAPP motion halts the lawsuit process until the motion is resolved.

Who are "State Actors" Under Arizona Law?

Arizona law defines "state actors" as individual state officials, employees, or public entities. As such, SLAPP lawsuits against these entities are prohibited by the state's anti-SLAPP law.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help in a SLAPP-

Individuals or businesses facing SLAPP lawsuits or contemplating legal action should seek the assistance of criminal defense attorneys who specialize in First Amendment and free speech issues. Experienced attorneys can guide clients through the anti-SLAPP process, helping them navigate tricky legal waters while effectively protecting their rights.

While strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) have become a common nuisance, Arizona's updated anti-SLAPP law sends a clear signal that citizens' First Amendment rights must be respected. Citizen journalists, activists, and other citizens who use social media to express their opinions without fear of these lawsuits are better protected under this law. Understanding Arizona's anti-SLAPP laws equips people with the knowledge they need to better protect their free speech rights.

For more information about Arizona's anti-SLAPP laws and free speech rights, visit Kolsrud Law Offices website