Law 360 by Nathan Hale
Law360 (November 5, 2019, 10:42 PM EST) — First Amendment rights advocates were encouraged by a decision from Florida’s Fourth District on a state statute that’s designed to prevent lawsuits aimed at hindering the exercise of free-speech rights, even though the court rejected an appeal that relied on that law.
The issue arose from a case in which former West Palm Beach city commissioner Sharon “Shannon” Materio sued a marketing firm, its principal and an electioneering group for publishing a mailer that suggested she received improper property tax breaks and a federally funded grant intended for low income residents, according to the appellate opinion. Materio contends the mailer, sent to voters just before the 2018 City Commission election, defamed her.
An attorney for several groups representing grassroots activists and most of the major media outlets in the state said that while the Fourth District panel found that case law prevented it from hearing the defendants’ appeal, the court’s certification of a conflict with the state’s Second District and other elements of its decision last week provide opportunities to ultimately strengthen the law’s protections.