Under Pressure from ACLU, Rhode Island Politician Drops Defamation Lawsuit Against Activist

December 5, 2006 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Rhode Island
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New York, NY 10004
United States

CONTACT: media@aclu.org

PROVIDENCE, RI – The American Civil Liberties Union announced today that South Kingstown political candidate Andrew Bilodeau has dismissed his defamation lawsuit against Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, a local activist who publicly criticized Bilodeau during the election campaign. The ACLU of Rhode Island filed a counter-lawsuit against Bilodeau last week charging that the defamation suit was brought to suppress Daly-LaBelle’s free speech rights.

The ACLU charged that Bilodeau’s case violated Rhode Island’s anti-SLAPP statute. SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) refers to lawsuits brought to chill people from exercising their freedom of speech on matters of public concern.

“I am pleased that our intervention in this case prompted Mr. Bilodeau to reconsider his position,” said ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorney Karen Davidson. “The quick dismissal of this suit vindicates the importance of the state’s anti-SLAPP statute in protecting Rhode Islanders from lawsuits aimed at stifling their free speech rights.”

A day before the November elections, Bilodeau sued Daly-LaBelle for defamation based on his distribution of a political flier that was critical of Bilodeau’s campaign. Bilodeau initially claimed that Daly-LaBelle’s flier violated campaign finance laws, and sought to bar him from handing out the fliers, but a judge denied that request.

When producing the flier, Daly-LaBelle relied on accurate news reports indicating that Bilodeau had not listed any expenses on his October campaign finance report, although he subsequently filed an amended report shortly before the election. The flier stated that “Bilodeau claimed no expenses on his state-required campaign finance report, despite numerous ads and literature put out by his campaign – undercutting his campaign theme of fiscal responsibility and open government.”

“I feel extremely vindicated, with Mr. Bilodeau dropping his suit against me so quickly,” said Daly-LaBelle. “This proves that this case went beyond just this flier I created. This was an attempt to silence my involvement in local budget and growth management issues. Hopefully this quick resolution sends a strong message to Mr. Bilodeau, and those he affiliates with, to respect community involvement, even if there are those with which they disagree.”

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