Lawsuit update: Legal bloggers rally to support free speech online

I wanted to take a moment to say “thank you” for the support I’ve gotten from lawyers in the blogosphere after being hit with a frivolous defamation lawsuit from a Florida travel agency earlier this year.

We’ve filed a motion to dismiss the suit and there’s no question that the case will be thrown out of court with prejudice.

In the meantime, it has become clear to the experts that this case was filed with the sole purpose of silencing this blog — what’s called a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), or a suit intended to censor, intimidate and silence someone by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism.

Maritime lawyer Jim Walker was one of the first bloggers to report on this case.

Suing travel writers for uncovering consumer fraud stories appears, in my opinion, to be retaliatory in nature and counter-productive. Mr. Elliott was ahead of this story in 2008 when he warned consumers of the Prime Travel policies in an article “A Travel Insurance Mystery: Who is Prime Travel Protection Services?”

Mr. Elliott indicates that he made a public records request for information regarding the state of Florida’s case against Palm Coast Travel, and will release the information on his website. This will be interesting reading.

He was right. The public records were interesting reading, and I haven’t even released all of the documents yet.

The case was also highlighted by the South Florida legal blog, The Legal Satyricon, and later picked up by Walter Olson’s Overlawyered blog. Here’s what the Satyricon had to say:

These kinds of actions threaten to shoot the messenger, and shoot him or her dead. Where an apology or clarification would have been sufficient, a lawsuit has been filed, and with the hope that Elliott will never engage in this kind of speech again.

The Citizen Participation Act, a bill that will introduce new punishments against these kinds of SLAPP cases, reward defendants who are wrongly sued, and ensure that only constitutionally protected speech is preserved, has been introduced to Congress. Send a letter to your representative supporting this bill today.

I was struck by some of the comments from other lawyers on the blog, particularly this one:

This suit is not only meritless, but is truly shameful. The defendants should pursue a counter action. This lawsuit would be like Toyota suing a customer who has spoken out against the problems with their car’s brake system. Do you think any judge, anywhere would have sympathy for Toyota?

Actually, we are pursuing a counter-action. We’ve sent a 57.105 motion to the company’s lawyers, which will require them to pay our legal fees when we prevail. We’re also weighing a counter-suit.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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