Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Revised Policy for Discussion Page

A notice will go out today via e-mail to our discussion page subscribers. Starting today, any unidentified subscribers will be blocked from the discussion pages. Most of our subscribers are neighbors and their e-mail identification is known by me to be valid. However, we have had a few recent subscribers whose e-mail identifications are unknown. Most current subscribers will not be affected. New subscribers will have to request permission to subscribe. If you have received this notification but find that you have been blocked from the discussion pages or from posting, please e-mail me with information providing your full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.

Star-Telegram Article on Indefinite Hold

I’m told that the S-T was supposed to have come out with another article last week, however the S-T attorneys reviewed it and decided to shelve it. I didn’t know that attorneys routinely reviewed each article, did you?

It’s Not Nice to threaten to SLAPP your new neighbors!

A new neighbor moves in and starts making a lot of changes. So you raise a few valid questions and you get no substantive answers and the next thing you know, your new neighbor is threatening to punch you out. The threat usually comes from an attorney who sends a “cease and desist” letter. Basically the letter tells you to “shut your blankety blank defamatory mouth” and quit asking questions or else!

Here’s what you didn’t know about your precious freedom of speech. That freedom almost doesn’t exist any more – at least not until recently in Texas. There’s a sneaky way to destroy First Amendment rights of free speech by employing civil damage suits known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). According to the ACLU website, SLAPP suits have recently been used "by powerful economic interests seeking to silence criticism and public debate."

According to TheFirstAmendment.org, “Every year, thousands of people are sued for participating in government or for speaking out on public issues. SLAPP targets have been sued for engaging in a wide variety of protected speech and protected expression activities, including:
· writing a letter to the editor
· circulating petitions
· calling a public official
· reporting police misconduct
· erecting a sign or displaying a banner on their property
· complaining to school officials about teacher misconduct or unsafe conditions in the school
· speaking at a public meeting
· reporting unlawful activities
· testifying before Congress or state legislatures
· speaking as an officer of an active public interest group
· filing a public interest lawsuit”

Large corporations and land developers have most often used this underhanded tactic to silence free speech. They know that they can hardly ever hope to win this kind of suit, but they hope to silence your opposition by forcing you to deplete your financial resources defending yourself over a long period of time. They hope that the threat of a SLAPP will shut you up. Such suits are illegal in many states. Texas was one of the six states that sorely lagged behind. But a new law went into effect in September that adds some protection to individuals who make complaints to government agencies or to quasi-governmental agencies. This includes making complaints to city officials and to county commissioners as well as to many quasi-governmental agencies. It’s called Civil Actions Against Persons Who File Complaints With Governmental Agencies, SECTION 1, Title 6, Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Chapter 138.

In addition, SLAPP attorneys can be penalized under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for bringing frivolous lawsuits or they can lose SLAPP back jury verdicts. Rule 11 sanctions can bring hotshot SLAPP attorneys stiff monetary penalties and even the possibility of losing licenses to practice law!

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