A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) is the common term for a suit brought by a powerful plaintiff to intimidate and silence the opposition. The defendant in a SLAPP is unfairly burdened with the cost of defense, and those costs may not be recoverable. A public agency that files a SLAPP against a records requestor unfairly denies that person the recourse he or she would have had under the Open Public Records Act, which mandates reimbursement of the plaintiff’s costs in a successful suit.
On October 9th, the Assembly Judiciary Committee passed a bill that will provide a measure of relief to defendants and make well-funded entities think twice about filing a SLAPP. Bill A3505 assesses a $10,000 fine for SLAPP suits brought in bad faith and creates a process for a defendant to obtain quick dismissal and recover his or her costs. There is currently no companion bill in the Senate.
Per a legislative aide, the Assembly committee released the bill with amended language to clarify that if it becomes law, it would be effective immediately but not retroactively.
The aide also stated that a similar bill passed the New Jersey Assembly in 2005 but did not make it through the Senate. Let’s make it law this time! Please ask your Assemblypersons to support the bill and ask your Senator to sponsor it. Thank you!