FALLSTON, MD - In a victory against lawsuits intended to keep Marylanders from speaking out on matters of public concern, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland is pleased to announce that a lawsuit filed against two Fallston women simply because they spoke out against the development envelope expansion in Harford County has been dismissed. So-called "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" or "SLAPP" suits are intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of litigation and threats of big damage awards. Prior to ACLU representation Stephanie Flasch and Beth Poggioli accrued $8,000 in legal fees, though it was only the beginning stage of defending against the frivolous lawsuit.
Quote from Deborah Jeon, ACLU of Maryland legal director:
"It is great news that this lawsuit has been dismissed, but more work is needed for Maryland to send a message that frivolous lawsuits intended to silence free speech will not be tolerated. We need changes to state law to strengthen legal protections against SLAPP lawsuits, to ensure community members can speak their minds on government policies and proposals without the intimidation and expense of having to defend themselves in court."
Quote from Stephanie Flasch, ACLU client:
"I was very surprised that just speaking out on a county issue could spark such a frivolous lawsuit. I hope the dismissal restores confidence within the community about providing opinions about how we would like Harford County to grow. I want people to feel comfortable and not fearful, to know that they can speak out on local matters without the threat of a lawsuit just for expressing themselves."
Quote from Beth Poggioli, ACLU client:
"I didn't realize these kinds of things can happen. Many people in the community who supported our campaign were intimidated by the lawsuit and didn't come forward and speak up because of that fear. I believe this type of lawsuit was an attempt to use the justice system as a means of legal extortion. Now, I am supporting reform because many states have stronger legislation against SLAPP suits than Maryland and that needs to change. We are so very grateful to the ACLU for getting quick action and showing people what was done to us was wrong.
Stephanie Flasch and Beth Poggioli are represented by Robin R. Cockey and Michael P. Sullivan of Cockey, Brennan & Maloney, PC and by Deborah A. Jeon and David R. Rocah of the ACLU of Maryland. Flasch and Poggioli were previously represented by Kelly M. Preteroti of Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver.