By Gi Linda -
SLAPPs -- Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
It is my observation that defamation claims made against the Nimbin GoodTimes and myself in 2017, and still continuing in 2020 with contempt charges against me, are an abuse of legal process known as a “SLAPP”.
In 1984, George W. Pring and Penelope Canan studied "SLAPPs", “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” at the University of Denver. They found that SLAPPs undermine the right to free speech by setting up an unfair Goliath v David battle between private and public interests, in which an overwhelming threat of litigation is used maliciously to silence critics and prevent free speech on issues of public concern.
Political activists and environmental defenders, civic and social organizations and public interest groups are often “slapped” with malice to prevent them exposing vested economic interests that trample pubic concerns.
In SLAPP suits, where legitimate dissent obstructs a litigant’s lust for profit, plaintiffs improperly use the courts to bulldoze private interests over public concerns by intimidation.
Fear alone is usually enough to force acquiescence to the litigant’s agenda of injustice. In most cases power and profit defeat truth and justice, without ever going to trial.
One Judge has described SLAPPs as: “suits without substantial merit, brought by private interests to stop citizens exercising political rights or punish them for having done so.”
I was targeted in 2017 with costly, traumatising litigation threatening damages and costs of millions, as the plaintiffs flaunted their presumption that the courts would favour the more profitable. This abuse of legal process was clearly intended to intimidate and also to discourage similar attempts by others to expose an alleged land-share fraud.
The defamation claim was brought against me for publishing details of loss of my inheritance in the plaintiffs' land-share venture. It was heard in NSW Supreme Court for six days in August - October 2019.
After reserving judgement for six months, in April 2020, Judge Fagan ruled against me, deciding that the plaintiffs' failure to fulfil marketing representations was a consequence of incompetence, not fraud, as I had alleged.
I was ordered to pay $400,000 damages plus legal costs, about $1 million.
Permanent injunctions followed to protect the plaintiffs from repetition of defamatory imputations of dishonourable conduct.
When I continued to publish information about the expansion of the land-share scheme and my ongoing quest for justice, the plaintiffs brought another SLAPP action against me with charges of contempt of court.
They request that the alleged contempt is deemed contumacious - which makes it a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment.
In response to the claim, I have initiated an application to move the controversy to the High Court because of constitutional matters involved in the suppression of discussion about issues of public concern, including the current sale of "tribal title" to properties that were paid for by myself and others, with no consideration in return.
Even stone-slinging shepherds and disenfranchised investors have a natural right to justice and the ability to bite-back with truth.
The power of Goliath in this case was the plaintiffs' assumed right to profit from sale of home-sites located on land where multiple occupancy dwelling is not a permitted use of the land, and their assumed right to use the power of the courts to intimidate investors who were disenfranchised without restitution.
The SLAPPs study shows that those filing malicious defamation claims presumed the courts would favour the private economic interests of the prosperous over the public concerns of the impecunious:
"The idea is that because a business has money at stake, business should receive priority over civic, communal opposition.”
Research by the Political Litigation Project at the University of Denver reveals how SLAPPs are used as an effective bludgeon to traumatize and silence opponents by causing an intimidating fear of crippling costs, damages and loss of reputation.
The best known SLAPP was the "mad-cow case" when television talk-show host Oprah Winfrey was accused of violating "veggie-libel laws" that give foods legal rights against defamation.
Following an April 1996 Oprah show discussing the dangers of mad cow disease, cattle ranchers blamed Oprah for sending the beef market into a spin.
The US National Cattlemen's Beef Association charged Oprah Winfrey, her production company and her guest, a Humane Society official, with defaming beef, claiming more than $12 million in damages.
Oprah won the suit saying, "Free speech is not only alive, it rocks...I refuse to be muzzled!"
"I refuse to be muzzled!"