At the request of ACLU cooperating attorney Charles Hinkle, we helped shepherd through a bill updating Oregon’s SLAPP law (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

The legislature first adopted the SLAPP statute in 2001. It is intended to provide for dismissal of lawsuits that are intended to chill public participation. These lawsuits target individuals who speak at public hearings before government bodies, write letters to the editor on public issues or express opinions on radio talk shows and Internet websites. The law allows the defendant (the public participant) to move to dismiss the lawsuit upon a showing that it is intended to chill speech before he or she is subject to substantial expenses. The law has worked well; it has resulted in lower litigation costs and fewer lawsuits against defendants who speak out on issues of public interest.

SB 543 updates the law in two ways. First, it allows for a defendant whose motion to dismiss is denied to directly appeal that decision. Second, it clarifies that the protections for free speech in the original statute are to be liberally construed, which is consistent with a California law, which was the model for Oregon’s law, and (more importantly) with the Oregon Constitution, which protects speech and expressions of opinion “on any subject whatever.”

Senate: 29-0
House: 45-0