Threat to Free Speech

I am an attorney in private practice and chairman of the First Amendment Committee of the ACLU of Southern California. I am writing in my personal capacity and not on behalf of the ACLU.

The April 11 article "Mall Liquor Sales Raise Concerns" indicated that a new restaurant on the Third Street Promenade, Legends, had threatened to sue anti-liquor activist Trisha Roth unless she withdrew her protest of the establishment's liquor license. The article said that Roth withdrew her protest rather than face this threat.

The action threatened by Legends is a so-called SLAPP suit--a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It is essentially a lawsuit to shut someone up, and prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights.

I may not agree with Dr. Roth, but based on the article, she was properly exercising her right to speak. For exercising this constitutionally guaranteed right, she was threatened with legal costs in a way that effectively silenced her. This is terrible.

In my opinion, Legends and its lawyer have legal and ethical obligations not to threaten a lawsuit without good grounds. I believe the act of threatening this lawsuit is potentially a violation of the canons of ethics for lawyers. I further believe that if a lawsuit were filed, Roth would have good cause for an action of malicious prosecution against both lawyer and Legends.

I also believe that responsible citizens everywhere should show their disapproval of this sort of legal action by boycotting institutions that engage in this type of behavior. I personally intend to refrain from visiting Legends.


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