Friday, September 26, 2008

Finally, Wendy Gets SLAPPed Down!

The wheels of justice often turn at an excruciatingly slow pace. But they do turn.

On Wednesday, Susan Paterno, the author of Santa Barbara Smackdown, an article that appeared in the American Journalism Review, succeeded in having News-Press owner Wendy McCaw's and Ampersand Publishing's (the parent corporation of the News-Press) claims against her for libel and defamation thrown out of court.

Washington Post media critic, Howard Kurtz, has previously described the substance of the suit, initially filed in December 2006, as follows:

McCaw's suit, filed in state court in Orange County, Calif., said her newspaper was defamed in a "biased, false and misleading diatribe." Paterno's article described an exodus of staffers from the News-Press after McCaw's purchase of the paper, following her divorce from cellphone mogul Craig McCaw, and explored allegations of unethical journalism.

Last year, Paterno filed a motion to dismiss the suit under California's anti-SLAPP statute. "SLAPP" is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation. The purpose of the anti-SLAPP law is to preserve the rights of people not to be dragged through the courts because they exercised their constitutional rights. And of course, Paterno's article would have been protected by the First Amendment guarantees of Freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

After a long, slow journey through the court system, which included a detour to an appellate court, Paterno's SLAPP motion was finally granted by an Orange County Superior Court judge, according to Shelley Hurwitz, one of the attorneys who represents Paterno.

The only thing that is left to be determined is how much money in attorney's fees McCaw will be required to pay Paterno. The parties return to court on October 29 to argue that part of the case.