Anti-SLAPP in CaliforniaA few months back, one of my newspaper clients reported about a doctor’s disciplinary matter pending before the California State Medical Board. The article reported what was in the official public records and published the doctor’s denial of the charges therein.

Nevertheless, the doctor took umbrage, arguing that no report should have been published, as no decision had been made yet – i.e., he had not been found “guilty” of the charges. So, he sued the newspaper, even though the article made it clear that the charges were still pending and no decision had been made by the board.

We tried to get the doctor to dismiss his suit, citing cases that immunize the media from accurate and true reports of what’s in official records, including charges of wrongdoing. As in criminal cases, one may report about the accusations as being just that – accusations. The media does not need to wait until a decision is made – otherwise, there could be no reports until all appeals were exhausted.

Somehow, neither the doctor nor his lawyers could draw the analogy, so the court did it for them, granting our Anti-SLAPP motion under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (a special motion to strike a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP)).

That statute has a mandatory attorney’s fee provision in favor of successful defendants, such as our newspaper client. So, the doctor (or his lawyers) wrote a check to the newspaper for the privilege of having filed an unmeritorious suit against it. If justice were served, the doctor’s lawyers should have been the ones who actually footed the bill, as they should have known better than to file the suit or they should have dismissed it once we gave them the authorities upon which the trial court relied later in granting the Anti-SLAPP motion.

So, don’t rush to sue a newspaper or other media outlet. Losing’s bad enough, but paying the newspaper’s lawyer rubs salt in the self-inflicted wound.

James J. Manning, Jr. (“Jim”)  is a Senior Partner at the Riverside (CA) based law firm of Reid & Hellyer.  His media law practice includes defending newspapers, large and small, throughout Southern California.