Two groups face court hearing under California’s first ‘SLAPPback’ lawsuit to protect free speech | Top Stories

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WEED, Cali. — In an effort to take advantage of an individual’s First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech; a group was silenced.

In a city meeting, Roseburg Forest Products presented to remove the town’s main public drinking water source; Beaughan Springs. The company planned on selling the water to Crystal Geyser Roxane bottled water company. 

Members of advocate groups, ‘Weed Nine’ and Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC) spoke out about trying to save the water supply. The company’s lawyers, White Brenner LLP then resulted in filing a SLAPP lawsuit against the City of Weed and the members who advocated against the proposal.

 Lauren Regan, Director and Senior Staff Attorney for the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) is the group member’s attorney taking on the case. 

“It’s a frivolous lawsuit that is filed for the purposes of trying to silence or stop people from exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In the state of California, SLAPP laws allow a defendant to file a motion to strike a complaint. 

In 2017, a court agreed the suit was under SLAPP requirements and dismissed the group members. This left the groups to spend the next two years compensating for the SLAPP charges. 

“The Weed nine, include elders and former mayors and former city council members,” says Regan. “And so they were targeted very specifically in order to scare the rest of the community from sticking their necks out and for advocating for their water rights.”

In 2020, the groups decide to file a SLAPPback lawsuit against the White Brenner LLP law firm and its lawyers. 

Regan said this is a way to help the Weed community to find justice in their First Amendment rights. 

“SLAPPback lawsuit allows you to sue for the harms that the community endured in being wrongfully sued for over two years,” says Regan. “It will allow them to redress the harms from being targeted in that way.”

Due to the pandemic, the case has slowed down. Now in 2023, the WCWC and Weed Nine will appear in a Sacramento court hearing on January 24. 

Regan said this is one journey she believes is worth fighting for. 

“For the local community,” says Regan. “It’s really important that they are exonerated and that the community understands that what happened to them was not because they did anything wrong. It was actually because they were doing everything right.”

The CLDC plans on streaming the press conference live on their Instagram account.

“The ruling that will come out of this case will be really important for whether or not people are allowed to advocate for public trust,” says Regan. “Rights like water, like clean air, like public parks without being threatened.”

Two groups face court hearing under California’s first ‘SLAPPback’ lawsuit to protect free speech | Top Stories

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