The ACLU filed a brief yesterday in D.C. Superior Court slamming Dan Snyder for his dumbass libel lawsuit against the Washington City Paper and asking the court to toss out the case. D.C. councilmember Mary Cheh joined the brief, along with a raft of influential news organizations such as The American Society of News Editors, The Society of Professional Journalists, NPR, Politico, and Atlantic Media.
If any of you have forgotten, Snyder is ticked off about Dave McKenna's brilliant "Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder," which laced up Snyder as a team owner and a businessman. Nothing in McKenna's story rose to the level of libel. But that didn't stop Snyder from suing. His is a bullying lawsuit designed to stifle free speech, and that's essentially what the ACLU et al. told the court yesterday.
The brief does not bode well for a dumbass like Snyder. DC has a strong "anti-SLAPP" law that protects against precisely the kind of litigious strongarming Snyder has undertaken. The law was enacted on March 31, 2011. Snyder filed suit a few weeks later, after letting his case play out unsuccessfully for months in New York court. That's pretty dumb.
You can read the entire brief below, but the nut of it is that the ACLU et al. believe that the City Paper has, in the letter of the anti-SLAPP law, been "communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest." Dan Snyder, on the other hand, has been leaning on the City Paper like a mob heavy. For his case to be heard, Snyder has to prove that it's likely to succeed on its merits. And he's not likely to do that, according to the brief:
Plaintiff's only hope of scaling this cliff lies in persuading this Court to apply a requirement of literal exactness – that readers would understand the statements to mean that he personally forged signatures, personally sprayed Agent Orange on trees in his backyard, and was literally removed from the Board of Six Flags. But literal exactness is not the proper standard for this Court to apply. Unhappily for the plaintiff, but happily for freedom of speech, a showing of material falsity requires a showing of departure from the truth that would matter to a reader – not a departure that would matter to a cite-checker or a copy editor, but to the readers in whose opinion the plaintiff alleges he has been harmed. ...
Plaintiff (i.e., his agents) apparently did forge telephone customers' signatures, and apparently on a massive scale. It is altogether common for the actions of agents to be recounted in the name of their boss; if a headline said, "MURDOCH HACKED CELL PHONES OF YOUNG MURDER VICTIM AND BRITISH TROOPS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN," no sensible reader would visualize Rupert Murdoch sitting at a keyboard with earphones on his head, typing computer code.
Even better, the ACLU brief contains a couple burns:
While the plaintiff has not yet had an opportunity to make his case, and it would therefore be premature for amici to express an unqualified conclusion on the merits, the facts on the public record suggest that he is as likely to prevail on the merits here as Voldemort is to prevail over Harry Potter in their final battle.
Oooh, snap! But there's more:
Absent exceptionally dramatic and unexpected revelations by the plaintiff, his ability to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on the merits appears to be of the same order of magnitude as the likelihood of the Redskins winning this year's Super Bowl.
It wouldn't be funny unless it were true.