California judge uses Anti-SLAPP law to dismiss libel claim against college paper

In what is believed to be the first case of student journalists successfully using an Anti-SLAPP statute, a California judge dismissed a libel lawsuit filed against San Jose State university’s student newspaper,The Spartan Daily, by a San Jose police officer.

The lawsuit was filed by Police Sergeant David Hewitt after the newspaper published a story about formal police misconduct charges being filed against him. The charges stemmed from an encounter with a Spartan Daily reporter who accused Hewitt of physically assaulting her while she was attempting to report on a traffic accident near the SJSU campus.

In an Oct. 20 ruling, the judge said that Hewitt had failed to refute the student editor’s claim that his lawsuit was anything more than an effort to chill the free speech and press rights of the newspaper. The editor, Ingrid Perez, argued that Hewitt’s libel lawsuit violated a California law designed to prevent “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation,” known as the Anti-SLAPP statute.

“Basically, the Court held that freedom of the speech and of the press protects what [The Spartan Daily] reported,” said James Wagstaff, the San\nFrancisco attorney who represented Perez. “This court’s decision reaffirms that the Anti-SLAPP statute is a powerful tool to enforce these freedoms and to shield journalists from tactical lawsuits which would effectively repeal the First Amendment by means of intimidation.”

Case: Hewitt v. State of California (Santa Clara County Superior Court, No. 776309)