Judge dismisses teacher's libel suit against student newspaper

NEVADA — A state court judge on Tuesday dismissed a libel suit filedagainst the Churchill County High School student newspaper editor and districtofficials.

District Judge William Rogers threw the case out under Nevada’s”anti-SLAPP” statute, which protects people from suits designed tostifle discussion of public issues.

Kathleen Archey, a music teacher at CCHS, sued over a news story in theschool’s student newspaper, The Flash. The paper reported onallegations by parents that Archey did not forward some of her students’ audition tapes to a state choir competition, according to court records.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, saidthis is the first known case where an anti-SLAPP law has been applied to astudent newspaper.

“It’s a logical use of the statute and it’s encouragingto know that’s available as a tool,” he said.

Laws like Nevada’s are designed to preserve the right to petition thegovernment, and were enacted to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against PublicParticipation. SLAPP suits are filed to harass those who exercise their petitionand speech rights, LoMonte said.

The law allows for speedy dismissal of SLAPP suits that are based on”good faith communications” made in connection with petitioning thegovernment.

“Because the article is truthful, because it communicated thecomplaints of parents to CCSD employees, and because these complaints regarded amatter reasonably of concern to the CCSD, the article fits squarely within theprotection of [the anti-SLAPP statute],” Rogers wrote in theopinion.

Rogers also held that public school teachers are public officials who mustmeet a high standard to win libel suits.

Rebecca Bruch, who represents the district, said she’s pleased withthe decision.

“We think the judge looked at the law, and Kathy Archey had a burdento meet and she didn’t meet that burden, and [he] dismissed the caseappropriately,” she said.

Archey also sued the Lahontan Valley News, a local newspaper thatcovered the controversy. Don Lattin, the paper’s attorney, said this is thefirst time any media outlet has been covered under the Nevada anti-SLAPPstatute.

Twenty-six states have anti-SLAPP laws, according to the First AmendmentCenter.

Archey’s attorney, Ken McKenna, did not respond to multiple phonemessages by press time.