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What constitutes a SLAPP suit

May 20, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.-An attorney who represented three Jefferson County residents who faced a $2.15 million lawsuit over a development they opposed classified the action as a "SLAPP" lawsuit.

SLAPP is an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

Such suits are designed to intimidate people who have spoken out against projects or issues at public meetings, said Martinsburg attorney David Hammer, who represented Richard Latterell, Sherry Craig and Mary MacElwee.

Latterell, Craig and MacElwee were sued after they and other county residents expressed concerns about Thornhill, a proposed 595-home subdivision near the Shenandoah River.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes threw out the suit last month.

People who are concerned about projects in the county take it upon themselves to go to public meetings and voice concerns, "as you should have the right to do," Hammer said.

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But people who are active in local issues were fearful when they learned about the suit against Latterell, Craig and MacElwee, Hammer said.

Jim Campbell, a Charles Town attorney who represented the developers of Thornhill in the suit against the three county residents, disagreed with Hammer's assertion that the suit was a SLAPP action.

Campbell said it could not be described as a SLAPP suit because state law does not recognize such a term.

Hammer said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, has made attempts to implement anti-SLAPP suit legislation.

Sen. John Yoder, D-Jefferson, said he has heard some lawmakers talk about banning SLAPP suits in West Virginia, but he never has had proposed legislation taken to him for consideration.

Yoder said he would be willing to consider proposed legislation to control SLAPP suits.

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