FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 19, 2012
Oliver Hall – (617) 953-0161
Lynne Williams – (207) 266-6327
MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT UNANIMOUSLY RULES FOR NADER IN SUIT AGAINST DEMOCRATS
High Court Decision Reinstates Lawsuit Alleging Democrats Unlawfully Targeted Nader-Camejo 2004 Independent Presidential Campaign
PORTLAND, ME – Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court (the “Law Court”) today unanimously ruled to reinstate a 2009 lawsuit filed by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his 2004 Maine electors against the Democratic Party and several of its allies. The lawsuit, originally filed in Superior Court for Washington County, Maine, was dismissed in November 2010 pursuant to Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute, 14 M.R.S. § 556. The Law Court vacated the dismissal, ruling that the lower court erred by denying Nader and his electors the opportunity to establish their claims for abuse of process, malicious prosecution and civil conspiracy.
“We conclude that the Maine anti-SLAPP statute may not be invoked to achieve dismissal of claims alleging abuses of process without giving the plaintiff the opportunity to establish a prima facie case to support the claims,” the Law Court declared in a majority opinion by Justice Donald G. Alexander. Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley, Justice Jon D. Levy, Justice Andrew M. Mead and Justice Ellen A. Gorman joined the opinion.
“Accordingly, today we announce a change in the parties’ burdens at the preliminary anti-SLAPP dismissal stage,” Justice Alexander wrote.
Under the new standard, the Law Court ruled that the lawsuit filed by Nader and his electors “should be allowed to proceed,” unless they are unable to show that “any, rather than all,” of the Democrats’ litigation against the Nader-Camejo 2004 presidential campaign was “devoid of any reasonable factual support or arguable basis in law.”
Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1995, with the intention of protecting activists who are sued by real estate developers for speaking out against proposed projects (such actions are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Typical SLAPP suits have no merit and are filed for improper purposes, such as imposing litigation costs – which, as defendant Toby Moffett admitted, was a primary purpose of the litigation that Democrats initiated against Nader’s 2004 independent presidential campaign with the late Peter Miguel Camejo.
In a concurring opinion joined by Justice Joseph M. Jabar, Justice Warren M. Silver wrote that the anti-SLAPP statute had been “used by different parties than those intended,” and that it had “served an entirely different purpose than the one intended.”
“The ‘Goliath’ who abuses other forms of petitioning to harass ‘David’ has now adopted the [anti-SLAPP statute] as another obstacle to throw in David’s path when he legitimately seeks to petition the court for redress,” Justice Silver wrote.
The lawsuit alleges that Democrats orchestrated a concerted, nationwide effort to interfere with the Nader-Camejo campaign, by filing 29 complaints in 19 states, including Maine, and that many of the complaints included groundless and demonstrably false allegations of fraud. According to Moffett, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who helped recruit an estimated 95 lawyers from 53 law firms to join the effort, the purpose of the Democrats’ complaints was to “drain,” “distract” and “neutralize” the Nader-Camejo campaign, by “forcing [them] to spend money and resources defending these things.”
Other defendants named in the lawsuit include the Maine Democratic Party, its former Chair Dorothy Melanson, the Democratic National Committee, its former Chair Terry McAuliffe, the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign and a Section 527 political organization called The Ballot Project headed by Moffett.
As a result of the Law Court’s decision, the lawsuit will be remanded to the Superior Court for Washington County for further proceedings.
The Law Court also vacated a lower court order awarding Moffet $1 in attorneys’ fees.
Copies of the Law Court’s opinion are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.