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The First Amendment enshrines the importance of freedom of speech and participation in the government through the right to petition or right to assemble. Over the years, society has used these rights to shed light on a variety of issues, including public harms and public concerns.
Unfortunately, some companies and individuals have weaponized lawsuits (most often defamation lawsuits) and filed retaliatory lawsuits against people who were merely exercising their rights. These lawsuits mired those utilizing these rights in expensive and draining litigation, sometimes for years. These lawsuits have been called “SLAPP” suits. “SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”
The term “SLAPP” was first used in the 1980s to describe lawsuits used to send a message that there was a “price” for civic engagement—that price being an expensive, meritless, and retaliatory lawsuit meant to chill the exercise of an individual’s right to free speech. Over the years, states began enacting statutes designed to protect an individual’s rights in the face of these types of lawsuits.
In July 2019, the Colorado General Assembly enacted Colorado’s Anti-SLAPP statute to address a growing concern that lawsuits were being used to chill participation in matters of public concern. In doing so, the General Assembly declared “that it is in the public interest to encouraged continued participation in matters of public significance and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process.” § 13-20-1101(1)(a), C.R.S. The purpose of Colorado’s Anti-SLAPP statute was “to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, to protect the rights to persons to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” § 13-20-1101(1)(b), C.R.S.
Colorado’s Anti-SLAPP statute provides a procedural mechanism at the outset of litigation to weed out meritless lawsuits. It limits the costs of the lawsuit by stopping all discovery and requiring a hearing to test the merit of the lawsuit before the lawsuit can proceed.
The attorneys at Belzer Law are the leading experts in Colorado on this area of the law, having argued the first Colorado Anti-SLAPP case before the Colorado Court of Appeals regarding the specific mechanisms and burdens applicable in Anti-SLAPP cases. If you are facing a defamation claim (or other type of lawsuit) for exercising your rights, it is important to contact an attorney quickly. There is a limited amount of time to assert a defense under Colorado’s Anti-SLAPP statute, so it is important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. The attorneys at Belzer Law, as the foremost experts on Colorado’s Anti-SLAPP law, can help.
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