A bill recently passed in the Legislature has many in Las Vegas worried that one of their most valued statutes is not long for this world. While SB444 most likely won’t be heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee for a while, some have already mobilized to get the word out about what they feel threatens their ability to do business in Sin City.
What Is SLAPP?
SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a reference to the idea that many businesses will use civil lawsuits to essentially stifle public debate about certain practices. In theory, this is how larger companies could easily silence detractors and even outright stop competition.
However, SLAPP typically refers to the government using these tactics. In Las Vegas, though, government and large businesses often work hand-in-hand. Without strong anti-SLAPP laws, some have argued that there would be no room left for the little man.
“A Problem That Doesn’t Exist”
This is how VP of the Review-Journal, Mark Hinueber, described what SB444 seems to be designed to find. His statement has been echoed by countless others who believe the bill either doesn’t serve a true purpose and could end up doing more harm than good in the process or is a stealthy attempt at undermining competition in Las Vegas.
Hinueber also noted that the anti-SLAPP legislation currently on the books—which was amended during the last session—already balances competitive interests. Therefore, if you agree anyway, it would seem little needs to be done to ensure fair play.
Instead, SB444 would effectively pull back the law that was originally passed back in 2013 and which was written with the express purpose of protecting free speech regarding matters of public concern.
Another Take on the Issue
However, Mitchell Langberg, who is serving as outside counsel to Wynn Resorts (the company promoting this bill), testified in support of the bill recently, claiming that the law amended in 2013 actually wasn’t strong enough to truly support free speech. Langberg is also a noted anti-SLAPP statute expert.
According to Langberg, the problem is a bit paradoxical. As the legislation has grown over the years and become as broad as it is, it can no longer offer the protection it used to. Put another way, it’s simply spread too thin. Anyone wishing to bring a case to trial faces too many legal challenges, according to him.
With SB444, Langberg told a committee, an equitable middle ground could be found. Currently, the anti-SLAPP laws only give an individual seven days to prove their claim and provide convincing evidence to back it up. Discovery, a central tenet in most cases, also isn’t allowed.
If you were wrongfully sued, there is no way to receive additional compensation to help cover your fees.
Wynn Resorts have been a part of at least two high-profile lawsuits where they went after those they believed publicly defamed and/or libeled them, so it makes sense this matter would be close to their heart. What the fallout will be now that this bill has passed is yet to be seen.