Florida can now count itself among the states that provide Anti-SLAPP law protection for speech that is distributed through a wide variety of media formats. On May 21, 2015, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law CS/SB 1312. The law amends Florida’s existing Anti-SLAPP law that previously only provided limited—and largely unnecessary—protections from frivolous lawsuits filed by government entities against individuals exercising their First Amendment rights. Among other things, the new law will provide a new legal procedure for the speedy disposal of such frivolous lawsuits (commonly referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suits) brought by private parties primarily to intimidate and silence speech on important public issues.
Since early February, Thomas & LoCicero attorneys Carol J. LoCicero, Mark R. Caramanica, and Sadie R. Craig worked intensely on the effort to pass this legislation with others, including The McClatchy Company, Gannett Company, Inc., the Florida Press Association, and the Motion Picture Association of America. Ms. LoCicero testified before state lawmakers in support of the bill along with Ben Sheffner from the MPAA.
At a time when the Florida state legislature often seems more focused on restricting media and citizen rights by, for example, introducing steady streams of bills that would weaken the state’s public records laws, the Anti-SLAPP bill was a welcomed change. It was one vote short of passing unanimously out of both chambers, passing the Senate 40-0 and the House 114-1.
Here is how the new law strengthens free speech in Florida:
- The law has been expanded to now provide Anti-SLAPP protection for “free speech in connection with public issues.” This is defined broadly in the law as “any written or oral statement that is protected under applicable law and…is made in or in connection with a play, movie, television program, radio broadcast, audiovisual work, book, magazine article, musical work, news report, or other similar work.”
- If a lawsuit or other legal claim is filed “primarily” because an individual has exercised their First Amendment rights in connection with a public issue, the victim of such a SLAPP suit can file a motion to have the case disposed of early in the litigation. This is an important procedural advantage because often one of the primary motivations for filing a SLAPP lawsuit is to make it very expensive for an individual to defend his or her speech rights.
- Once a motion is filed, a court must give the matter scheduling priority and hold a hearing “at the earliest possible time.”
- Finally, the new law also provides for mandatory attorneys’ fees and costs to the party that prevails on any SLAPP motion.
“Florida’s revised Anti-SLAPP law will now provide another layer of protection for the First Amendment rights of our citizens and hopefully make people think twice before using our courts to silence legitimate speech about public issues,” said LoCicero. “Our firm was eager and proud to assist in this very important pro bono effort.”
Thomas and LoCicero, PL is a Tampa, Florida law firm that specializes in media and communications law, intellectual property law, and business litigation. More information about the firm can be found at www.tlolawfirm.com.