Today a Washington state judge ruled against a Stand With Us backed case that charged the Olympia Food Co-op with wrongful doing in their decision to de-shelve Israeli products as part of the global movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The judge fined the plaintiffs $160,000 for their attempt to stifle the co-op’s free speech. From the Center for Constitutional Rights:
July 12, 2012, Olympia, WA and New York, NY – Today, in a lawsuit brought against current and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op board of directors for their decision to boycott Israeli goods, a Washington State court ruled that plaintiffs are liable for the costs and fees of the suit and $160,000 in statutory damages. The court had previously determined the lawsuit was a SLAPP, Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, and upheld the constitutionality of the anti-SLAPP law against plaintiffs’ challenge.
Said Maria LaHood, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, ‘This ruling sends a strong message to those seeking to halt peaceful boycotts and other forms of free speech through burdensome and expensive litigation. We applaud the court for stopping this attempt to chill free speech in support of Palestinian human rights.’
The plaintiffs had purported to bring the SLAPP on behalf of the co-op itself, which has approximately 22,000 members. They argued that the co-op should have borne the costs, rather than the plaintiffs individually. The judge rejected this argument and awarded $10,000 for each defendant, plus attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit was filed last year by five co-op members. Plaintiffs sought the rescission of the boycott policy and monetary damages against the defendants, claiming they acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties. In his first decision, issued February 27, 2012, the judge ruled the lawsuit was an unlawful interference with free speech and related action on issues of public concern. The boycott is part of a global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel for violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights.
Said Bruce Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who argued the motion, ‘This result is exactly what the anti-SLAPP statute was intended to produce. Early dismissal of this suit will avoid complicated, burdensome, and expensive litigation over the Co-op’s boycott decision. Reimbursement to SLAPP victims directly protects fundamental rights of advocacy.’
SLAPPs are lawsuits that target the constitutional rights of free speech, petition, and related action on issues of public concern. Although cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can nonetheless effectively achieve their primary purpose: to chill public debate on targeted controversial issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence outspoken critics. Washington State’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 2010 to deter such lawsuits.
Said Jayne Kaszynski, spokesperson for the Olympia Food Co-op, ‘We are pleased that the judge’s ruling protects the Co-op from the financial burden of defending its Board and staff from this frivolous lawsuit. We look forward to putting this behind us and focusing all of our energy into providing healthy, local food to our community.
h/t Noah Sochet.