Reporter Uses State's Anti-SLAPP Law to Fight News-Press Lawsuit

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.

Details here from the AP via the San Jose Mercury News. My earlier post about this lawsuit is here.