… SLAPPs shift disputes from public fora, where they can be politically resolved, to private judicial environments in which only the technicalities of a matter can be addressed. The issue at stake morphs from the original concern into the plaintiff’s claimed injuries. These transformations suppress the issue of who is right in the underlying dispute.
Due to the prohibitive costs of mounting a defence, defendants often agree to settle their cases out of court, undertaking agreements to be silent on the issue or to publicly retract their criticisms. If they lose their case, they may be forcibly silenced by an injunction order preventing them from speaking against, or taking protest action against, the plaintiff.
Notwithstanding the significance of these outcomes, the fallout from a SLAPP is what really kills civic involvement. This second wave of silencing, termed the “chilling effect” by Canan and Pring, is the defining feature of SLAPP suits. In my article on the upcoming trial of the Gunns 20 yesterday, I outlined some of the specific chills generated by the case.
“Chilling” describes the broader consequences, and some claim, the chief purpose of a SLAPP suit. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze character in one of the more forgettable episodes of the Batman franchise, SLAPP suits freeze public political participation. Not to impugn the Governator: Schwarzenegger strengthened California’s already strong anti-SLAPP legislation in 2006 by signing the Malicious Prosecution Bill, which allows SLAPP defendants to file “SLAPPback” suits.
The chilling effect can be direct and immediate as defendants’ time and resources are channelled into fighting the lawsuit — and diverted from their original act of public participation.
Most importantly, however, the chilling effect refers to the overall silencing of dissent in a community, as individuals and groups become afraid to voice their opinions for fear of being sued. …