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'Civil Action' Star Gets SLAPPed Down

Jan R. Schlichtmann, the Massachusetts plaintiffs lawyer made famous by the book and movie A Civil Action, got a cold slap today in the form of a rebuff from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In The Cadle Company v. Schlichtmann, the SJC struck down Schlichtmann's effort to use the state's anti-SLAPP law to dismiss a libel lawsuit against him.

Schlichtmann today lives in a waterfront home in the exclusive Massachusetts community of Prides Crossing, but the toxic tort case that brought him fame initially left him bankrupt. Cadle is a collection company that went after Schlichtmann for some of that debt. There followed years of "particularly acrimonious" litigation between Cadle and Schlichtmann, to borrow the SJC's description. Along the way, Schlichtmann begain speaking out to the media against Cadle. He also created a Web site, Truth About Cadle.

Alleging Schlichtmann published statements on the Web that were defamatory, Cadle sued him in 2005 in a Massachusetts state court. Relying on the anti-SLAPP law, Schlichtmann sought to dismiss the suit. He contended, as the SJC explains it, "that Cadle's complaint had been filed in retaliation for Schlichtmann's exercise of his right to petition the government for redress regarding Cadle's business practices." But the SJC found that Schlichtmann's publication of the statements was more a search for clients than for public redress.

"Schlichtmann published the statements on his Web site ... not as a member of the public who had been injured by these alleged practices, but as an attorney advertising his legal services. The Web site was, in essence, designed by Schlichtmann to disseminate to the public information about Cadle and, by doing so, to attract clients to his law practice."

Given this, the SJC said, Schlichtmann's motion must fail:

"[A]n attorney may not claim protection of the anti-SLAPP statute for publishing statements about an adversary at will, in hopes of shoring up his or her own position, attracting potential clients, or otherwise gaining a tactical advantage in an ongoing legal proceeding, even when that proceeding has, as here, attracted a good deal of public and governmental interest. Put more simply, aggressive lawyering of this sort is not protected petitioning activity."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on January 17, 2007 at 05:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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