Protecting Political Speech from Retaliatory Litigation (PDF-527kb)
Protecting Political Speech from Retaliatory Litigation
“A Cobb County judge has dismissed a Smyrna gun seller’s lawsuit that was brought against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
When the City of New York began its first-of-a kind legal battle against out-of-state gun dealers whose wares were disproportionately tied to crimes within the City’s borders—a battle Pillsbury attorneys helped wage from the front lines—it was destined to become a hot political topic.
But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t shy away from the political controversy generated by the City’s novel approach, which involved suing 27 gun dealers in Southern and Midwestern states. Instead, he passionately decried the dealers’ illegal sales practices, which were providing New York City felons with a steady supply of weapons.
Mayor Bloomberg’s comments were immediately attacked by his political opponents and by the gun dealers, including two dealers who responded by suing the Mayor and other city officials in their home states. These dealers claimed they had been defamed by the Mayor’s remarks, and sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
One such dealer who sued the Mayor for slander effectively abandoned his lawsuit when he was indicted for illegally selling a gun to a felon. In the second suit, the Mayor’s defense team recognized that Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute—barring “strategic lawsuits against public participation”—provided important protections to those who voice political opinions from retaliatory lawsuits intended to silence them.
Following extended litigation over which court—state or federal—should even hear the case, a Georgia Superior Court judge ultimately determined that the dealers’ suit was barred by the state’s anti-SLAPP law. The defamation case was dismissed outright, with plaintiffs now appealing.