Murphy signs new law to combat SLAPP lawsuits in New Jersey

TRENTON – New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill that will make it easier for state judges to dismiss frivolous civil lawsuits that seek to intimidate or silence critics.

The Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, which passed the state Legislature with bipartisan support, would allow defendants to ask courts to expedite the dismissal of so-called SLAPP lawsuits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, which often pass through the judicial system at great cost to defendants.

A SLAPP is generally a meritless civil action — such as a defamation lawsuit — brought against whistleblowers, community activists, reporters, and other individuals who speak out about public issues and concerns. Critics say civil lawsuits are filed with the intent that defendants will incur significant costs defending themselves.

“Abuses of the Justice System by the Powerful.”

Murphy said the new law will improve democracy and freedom of expression in public discourse and protect individuals “who have been unfairly targeted by these lawsuits over the years.”

“For too long, powerful people have abused the judicial system to suppress free speech through illegitimate lawsuits,” Murphy said in a statement. “By pursuing baseless cases, these powerful parties aim to silence their critics by making it impossible for those with fewer resources to spend the time and money needed to defend themselves legally.

Bipartisan support for the measure

One of the bill’s architects, state Sen. John Bramick, R-Union, said the new law would allow New Jersey residents “to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of being overwhelmed by due process.”

Another sponsor, state Assemblyman Raj Mukherjee, D-Jersey City, said the measure protects free speech by “giving back the microphone and the pen and providing a strong remedy so journalists and citizens can speak confidently without fear of unwarranted retaliation.” “

“Money and power should not be tools to silence the voices of critics and whistleblowers,” he said. “While our democracy thrives on freedom of expression, frivolous SLAPP lawsuits aim to stifle that freedom.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), supports media organizations

The changes were supported by the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the New Jersey Press Association and other good government and First Amendment groups.

“Journalists should be able to report on matters of public interest without fear that the subjects of their coverage will target them or their newsroom with costly and baseless legal action,” said Lisa Zickerman, deputy legal director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. . .

“These types of protections are essential to maintaining unwavering journalism that informs communities, exposes wrongdoing, and holds public figures and officials accountable.”

SLAPP laws in other states, at the federal level

The new law is modeled on a 2020 proposal approved by the Uniform Law Commission, a national, nonpartisan group that advocates for uniformity of state laws.

With Murphy’s signing, New Jersey becomes one of 33 states with anti-SLAPP laws, according to the Public Participation Project, a nonpartisan advocacy group.

In Congress, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., introduced a bill last year to create a federal anti-SLAPP law with uniform national rules instead of the current patchwork of state laws.

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(tags for translation) New Jersey Slap Lawsuits

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