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How A Small Claims Court Decision May Play A Role in Ending “Fake News”

By: Richard Lawless

People often say it is the small things that count. This is a story about a “small thing” that may change the face of America’s news media.  Earlier this year, a relatively simple small claims court case over a ten-thousand-dollar dispute was filed against a major media outlet, Managing Editor. 

The case was quickly dismissed with prejudice.  An appeal to the review Judge for the court was denied. A few weeks later a four-hundred-million-dollar lawsuit against the newspapers parent company was filed and it was immediately dismissed based, in large part, on the decision of the small claims Magistrate Judge.  The small claims Judge applied the States Anti-SLAPP Statute in the original ten-thousand-dollar dispute. 

States have increasingly passed statutes, often referred to as Anti-SLAPP statutes that allow for the dismissal of lawsuits against media companies if the topic in question was widely written about or discussed by the media company.  The statutes are designed to protect media companies from frivolous lawsuits on topics that have national interest.  Like all good intentions, the increasing use by the courts to dismiss litigation using the Anti-SLAPP statutes has gone increasingly, “off the rails”.

As in this case, we have one Small Claims Magistrate Judge whose Anti-SLAPP ruling, made in a ten-minute hearing regarding a ten-thousand-dollar dispute, carries the day in a series of related lawsuits.  The Anti-SLAPP laws allow and often require that the case be dismissed with prejudice preventing any other lawsuit filings on that specific issue throughout the country. 

In this case, the plaintiff claimed that this major newspaper outlet was aware of a decades-long criminal enterprise that included the alleged participation of U.S. Senators.  The plaintiff claims the newspaper hid that information from their readers and subscribers.  The plaintiff, based his cause of action in all the lawsuits on the “cover-up”.  Plaintiff claimed the newspaper was aiding and abetting in the crimes.

A cover-up is a non-action, not written or spoken. The Anti-SLAPP provisions only apply to written or oral disputes.  The plaintiff submitted evidence exhibits in all cases allegedly showing emails and documents from the newspaper that left little doubt the newspaper knew about the alleged crimes for years but reported alternative reasons for these crimes to their subscribers, allegedly to protect their political allies. 

As a result, the plaintiff filed something called a Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court. The writ claimed that the use of these growing number of State, Anti-SLAPP laws denied the plaintiffs their seventh amendment rights to a jury trial and consequently their 14th amendment rights to the taking of property without redress.  In these aiding and abetting claims, the aidder and abetter is often held as responsible for the criminal acts as the criminals.

The odds of the Supreme Court accepting a plea under the Writ of Certiorari procedure in less than one percent for a pro se plaintiff.  Unbelievably, the Supreme Court accepted his petition for a hearing.

In what may be one of the most consequential media cases in modern history, a pro se plaintiff and a small claims Magistrate Judge started a process that may do away with the media’s most effective shield against litigation when they knowingly print false information.

With all the cries from the public, politicians, and the media itself, this Supreme Court hearing may do more to eliminate media bias and fake news reporting than all the lawsuits that have gone before it.  This case may eliminate what many argue is an abused but effective defense the national media relies on to report what they please and when they please.

The Supreme Court has requested all legal briefs be submitted by February 14, 2022, and will decide shortly after that if a court ruling or court hearing would be appropriate.  It is also possible, but unlikely, that the “court” could decide to do nothing.   

You see, it is about the small things.  A self-represented indigent plaintiff and a normally inconsequential, small claims court, Magistrate Judge have accomplished what the largest and best-funded law firms and companies in this country could not accomplish.

Something happened that proves once against the United State of America, is special and unique. When many think all is lost, this Republic delivers a miracle.  A miracle not possible with other forms of government.  

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