By Chandler Surrency
Even if you didn’t spend six weeks watching the dramatic testimony from the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial, you probably knew it was happening. Depp sued his ex-wife, Heard, for defamation, based on an article that was published in the Washington Post. Heard filed a counterclaim against Depp, also claiming defamation. In the end, the jury awarded Depp over $10 million for his defamation claim, and awarded Heard $2 million for her claim. The case clearly involved two very wealthy people who, presumably, could afford to go through the legal process. However, it brought the issue of anti-SLAPP laws to the forefront.
So, what are anti-SLAPP laws? SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation, and it is when a person (the plaintiff) uses a lawsuit to intimidate or silence a critic (the defendant) by forcing the person to pay to defend against a defamation claim. These lawsuits are often brought by wealthy or influential people or organizations against people or organizations with fewer resources. This can be an effective technique because even a lawsuit without merit can take years and thousands of dollars to defend. Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to prevent this from happening, often by allowing the defendant to file a motion early on in the case that forces the plaintiff to prove the case has merit. If the plaintiff is unable to prove the claim has merit and the judge dismisses the case, the plaintiff is often required to pay the defendant’s costs in defending the lawsuit.
Every state has different laws. Currently, more than 30 states have enacted anti-SLAPP laws. Iowa is not one of them. In recent years, the Iowa legislature has attempted to pass such a law, but it has never made it to the governor’s desk. Proponents of anti-SLAPP laws argue that they protect the First Amendment right to free speech. Critics of anti-SLAPP laws argue that they violate the constitutional right to a jury trial. Whichever side of the debate you fall on, this will be a topic to watch in legislative sessions for the next few years.
If you have questions about anti-SLAPP laws or defamation lawsuits, you should contact an attorney well-versed in that area of the law.
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