Thursday, April 27, 2006

Maine Web Report Author Lance Dutson Sued by Maine Office of Tourism Contractor Warren Kremer Paino Advertising

Lance Dutson has been slapp-ed with a multi-million dollar lawsuit by Maine Office of Tourism contractor Warren Kremer Paino Advertising. Go immediately and read Lance's post on the subject. He includes links to a summary of the controversy over the MOT's Pay-per-click advertising program, as well as to a pdf file of the lawsuit itself. The suit is only seven pages long, so I encourage everyone to read it. It's highly risible. The biggest punchline: petitioning for a jury trial. I can't imagine any Maine jury finding for WKP.

Of course, the point of this lawsuit is not to win a jury trial. It is to get Lance to stop doing his privilege and duty as a citizen of the State of Maine, namely, criticizing government and its contractors when he perceives that they are doing wrong. This is known as a SLAPP suit, which the First Amendment Project describes as follows:

Generally, a "SLAPP" is a (1) civil complaint or counterclaim; (2) filed against individuals or organizations; (3) arising from their communications to government or speech on an issue of public interest or concern. SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, government officials and others against individuals and community groups who oppose them on issues of public concern. SLAPP filers frequently use lawsuits based on ordinary civil claims such as defamation, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, nuisance, interference with contract and/or economic advantage, as a means of transforming public debate into lawsuits.

Most SLAPPs are ultimately legally unsuccessful. While most SLAPPs lose in court, they "succeed" in the public arena. This is because defending a SLAPP, even when the legal defense is strong, requires a substantial investment of money, time, and resources. The resulting effect is a "chill" on public participation in, and open debate on, important public issues. This "chilling" effect is not limited to the SLAPP target(s): fearful of being the target of future litigation, others refrain from speaking on, or participating in, issues of public concern.

The filing of a SLAPP also impedes resolution of the public matter at issue, by removing the parties from the public decision-making forum, where the both cause and resolution of the dispute can be determined, and placing them before a court, where only the alleged "effects" of the public controversy may be determined. For example, imagine a company asks for a zoning variance to place an incinerator in a residential area. When local residents object to the city council, the company sues them for "interference with contract." The judge hearing the suit cannot decide the real issues -- the location of the incinerator -- but will have to spend considerable judicial resources to decide the side issues of the alleged "damages" or other consequences of the public debate on the real issues.

We fellow bloggers cannot allow any of this to happen.

Lance has some big guns in his corner: the Media Bloggers Association. That group's president said of the lawsuit:

"This case is nothing more than an attempt by a deep-pocketed litigant to bully a blogger for criticizing state officials and state contractors"", said MBA President Robert Cox. "We have successfully defended MBA members in nine previous cases and I don't expect the outcome here to be any different."

Jason Clarke, board member of the MBA, says this over at his blog:

Nobody should forget that while the lawsuit has been filed by the Warren Kremer Paino advertising agency, they are involved in this mess as the advertising agency of record for the Maine state Office of Tourism. As a citizen of the state, I fully expect that the Office of Tourism would have something to say in this matter. So, how are they going to respond? Will they come down in favor of the ad agency that is suing one of their citizens for millions of dollars? Or will they stand up for somebody they are supposed to be working on behalf of?

I can't say it any better than that, so I won't. I'm already on record as being against the very existence of the MOT.

Fellow bloggers, please give Lance and this issue plenty of link love and ranting space. If they take him down, they'll be coming for us, eventually.

Hang in there, Lance.



Linking to: Liberal Common Sense, TMH's Bacon Bits,, Quietly Making Noise

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