LOS ANGELES - A reporter is using a state law designed to protect whistleblowers to seek dismissal of a lawsuit over an article she wrote about turmoil at the Santa Barbara News-Press. The motion was filed in Orange County Superior Court by Susan Paterno, who wrote an article called "Santa Barbara Smackdown," which appeared in the December 2006-January 2007 issue of American Journalism Review.
Ampersand Publishing LLC, which publishes the News-Press, filed a lawsuit against Paterno last month, accusing her of libel and product disparagement. The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Paterno, 48, wants a judge to dismiss the lawsuit and award her attorney's fees under California's anti-SLAPP - Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation - law, which is aimed at preventing the silencing of critics through lawsuits.
"We think there is a concerted effort by the News-Press management to chill the free-speech rights of a lot of people," said Paterno's attorney, Charles Tobin. "Unfortunately, they are trying to drag a freelance reporter who was trying to cover the story into the fray."
Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, could not immediately comment about Paterno's motion.
A hearing is scheduled for March 5.
Paterno's story chronicled a six-month period at the News-Press last year during which nearly every top editor left and workers voted to unionize.