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New Arizona law targets frivolous libel suits

It became a lot easier for people to get frivolous libel lawsuits thrown out in court thanks to a new Arizona law.
Published: Jun. 1, 2022 at 6:51 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — A new Arizona law may make it easier for the targets of frivolous libel lawsuits to have those lawsuits thrown out of court. Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2722 into law on Friday. It is a version of what’s called an “anti-SLAPP” law. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. “The purpose of this bill is to make sure that nobody who exercises their First Amendment rights should be sued simply because they’re doing that,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ben Toma, a Republican from northwest Phoenix.

The bill has wide-ranging implications over political speech but will undoubtedly affect libel lawsuits, where someone is accused of making a false statement that damages the reputation of another person, business or organization. “It’s just overwhelming what people go through in litigating a libel suit, particularly in the media, where the reporter is trying to report something to the public. And somebody just doesn’t like that they’re doing that and tries to stop them,” said Gregg Leslie, the executive director of the First Amendment Clinic at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Leslie says libel lawsuits can be expensive to defend and the fear of getting sued can chill legitimate and protected speech. This law would affect suits that are filed to quell speech or in retaliation for protected speech. It would allow defendants to move to have such lawsuits thrown out, without needing to go through a costly trial.