Heavyweight lobby group tries again to reduce power of state’s anti-SLAPP law

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Texas court

The politically powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform is again seeking to tamp down the state’s Texas Citizens Participation Act, better known as the anti-SLAPP law.

A SLAPP suit — shorthand for a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” — is an action to discourage the exercise of some First Amendment rights, including free speech. In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed the act to combat such lawsuits, which have been used to quash investigations by media groups and others seeking public records. The suits are intended to intimidate defendants with the potential cost of legal fees.

The move comes after a similar attempt in the 2017 session when a bill filed by state Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, failed to move past filing stage. TLR has contributed more than $400,000 to Lozano’s campaigns over five election seasons.

Texans for Lawsuit Reform sent out a 25-page memo early this year, noting that the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which it supported when it passed, has become a tool for individuals seeking protection not just from political efforts but also in cases of individual beefs. The special interest group and political action committee funded in part by builders and developers  alleges that the law, one of the broadest in the U.S., has been applied too loosely in some cases.

TLR urged legislative intervention to limit the reach of the statute.

This session, bills that incorporate TLR’s ideas have been filed in the House and the Senate  — in both cases by legislators who’ve received substantial donations from the lobbying group.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, has received $40,000 in donations over his four terms while state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, received $90,000 from TLR in 2017 and 2018 in her first campaign for state office.

In 2011, the anti-SLAPP law was approved unanimously by both chambers, meaning that it could go into effect immediately.

The Texas law was backed from the outset by media groups and individuals who had been sued for defamation.

Many of those same groups, including the Texas Press Association, the Texas Association of Broadcasters and the Society of Professional Journalists, are now part of the Protect Free Speech Coalition, which is opposing measures to limit the law.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. You correctly point out that we (TLR) analyzed the existing law and found that it is being used to dismiss cases that have nothing to do with the First Amendment or lawsuits filed to harass people participating in public conversations about matters of public concern, which were its’ intended uses. If you read our paper, you will see that we provide examples of the statute being used to protect a lawyer who tried to extort settlements out of dozens of Texas businesses and by a company that arguably stole another company’s trade secrets, among other misuses. Extortion and theft are not protected by the First Amendment. We think the law should be refined so that it protects First Amendment rights and public participation in important issues, while not providing a safe harbor for crooks and thieves. The fact that we have supported dozens of candidates for office over the years has nothing to do with the merits of the law, which every fair-minded person would conclude is overly broad and being used for purposes for which it was not intended. -Lee Parsley, General Counsel, TLR

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