First Amendment victory—Judge dismisses racketeering SLAPP suit

Upholding the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, a federal district judge Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed against a Big Bear Lake environmental activist by a San Diego-based developer. Sandy Steers, a resident of the community of Fawnskin, had been sued by Marina Point Development Associates under the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a law designed to root out mob activities. Marina Point claimed that Ms. Steers conspired with officials of the U.S. Forest Service to “derail” the project by urging various governmental agencies to enforce laws to protect bald eagles in the area.

First Amendment Project, in conjunction with the UCLA Environmental Law Clinic, represented Steers pro bono and persuaded the court that Steers’s activities were petitioning and speech activities protected by the First Amendment for which she could not be sued. Judge Manuel Real agreed and dismissed the action against her and forbidding the developer to re-file a similar lawsuit against Steers.

This is a significant victory not just for the activists in Fawnskin but for all those who want to be active participants in our democracy and advocate for the things that are important to them.

Now, First Amendment Project needs your help. We provided Sandy Steers with over $100,000 in free legal services. But without your support now we will not be able to continue to offer legal services to people like Sandy Steers or any of the other activists, journalists or artists we have assisted over the past 12 years. We are in serious danger of closing if we cannot raise funds from people who care about freedom of speech and of the press. Please help us keep our doors open.

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