10 reasons a California judge’s decision is good for the planet

by Amy Moas

January 22, 2019

A federal judge dismissed RICO charges against Greenpeace International, Greenpeace USA, Stand.Earth, and 5 individuals

Activists and free speech supporters gather outside federal courthouse, standing in solidarity with Greenpeace entities, Stand.Earth and the five individual staff sued by Resolute Forest Products

Almost three years ago, one of the largest logging companies in Canada, Resolute Forest Products, sued Greenpeace USA and others, including myself personally, under the anti-mafia law RICO, in an attempt to silence our campaign to raise awareness of its destructive logging practices.

This morning, Judge Jon Tigar in the US District Court in Northern California, dismissed the RICO charges and even applied California’s Anti-SLAPP law and ordered the logging giant to pay a portion of our legal fees. An incredibly narrow defamation case will continue, but we will vigorously defend ourselves and believe we will prevail because we rely on the best available science. This lawsuit brought by Resolute Forest Products has had far-reaching implications.

Here are 10 reasons why Judge Tigar’s decision today is incredibly important.

1. Forest defenders won.

Today’s decision validated the role of Greenpeace and all of our supporters who believe in science and are willing to stand up for a green and peaceful future. We always knew that we never did anything wrong by drawing attention to Resolute’s forest destruction, but now the world knows that as well.  Greenpeace and thousands of brave environmental activists are here to stay and are on the right side of history.

2. Free speech won.

This was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, also known as a SLAPP.  It was one attempt by a huge corporation to criminalize everyday acts of advocacy work. If it had been successful it could have been devastating to everyday people who stand up for what they believe in and are investing in making this world a better place.

3. Resolute wasted its own time and money, not ours.

Abusive SLAPPs,  like this one, are really about intimidation and draining resources of opponents in an effort to silence them. Thanks to our supporters, Greenpeace was brave enough and strong enough to not let the simple existence of this lawsuit silence us, sending a strong message that SLAPPs don’t work. Even more significant now is that Judge Tigar has ordered Resolute to pay a portion of our legal fees under California’s anti-SLAPP law. Beyond demonstrating that the SLAPP did not work to silence us, the court’s ruling has also been proved that the case was a bad business decision.  Resolute may try to appeal, but it is clear the company has nothing to gain in doing so, and yet so much to lose. If Resolute were to appeal it would only be a waste of more time and more of its shareholders’ money.

4. Time is up for Resolute’s Canada SLAPP.

This SLAPP is not the first or only that Resolute has filed against a Greenpeace entity. The company has an ongoing lawsuit against Greenpeace Canada and two individual staff.  This Canadian case, filed more than 5 years ago, contained claims that the Ontario Superior Court deemed to be “scandalous and vexatious.” The lawsuit has failed to silence Greenpeace Canada or stop its work to protect the boreal forest.  Today’s decision that dismissed nearly all of Resolute’s claims in the U.S., sends a strong message that the company’s abusive legal tactics will not pay off, no matter where they were filed.

Greenpeace staff and legal team gather at federal courthouse on May 30

5. Energy Transfer clearly invested in a failure.

Resolute is not the only company that is suing Greenpeace in an attempt to silence us so they can keep polluting the planet and ignoring the impacts. Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, followed Resolute’s footsteps, hired Resolute’s lawyers and sued Greenpeace USA and others in an outrageous and racist $900 million SLAPP.  Today’s decision by Judge Tigar has to have Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer, tossing and turning at the realization that his SLAPP is not good business.

6. Trump’s go-to law firm is exposed for selling bad advice.

Resolute Forest Products and Energy Transfer both used Michael Bowe at Trump’s go-to law firm of Kasowitz Benson Torres to craft their SLAPPs. In both cases, Bowe has attempted to criminalize basic advocacy by misusing anti-mafia racketeering laws against advocacy groups and individual staff. And Bowe wants others to follow, even bragging that he was talking to other corporations about filing more SLAPPs. Judge Tigar’s decision today should give pause to any corporation planning to listen to Bowe about this bullying tactic, as it clearly is not the answer to civil society opponents or advocacy campaigns.

Protesters march with a message of resistance. Native Nations March. Native nations gather this week to stand up for indigenous rights. Thousands march from the Army Corps of Engineers to Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, where a rally is held.

7. Protection of speech was not replaced by protection of corporate interests.

In the current political climate, it can feel like we are one bad decision, one executive order, one extraordinary circumstance away from the power of corporations replacing the power of the people. Today’s decision by one federal judge made it clear that the protection of free speech will stand above the protection of corporate interests. Any corporation looking at SLAPPs, and especially the racketeering laws,  as a way to silence dissent, will now be met by a strong legal precedent on the books, and proof that abusive legal tactics will not be tolerated by federal judges.

8. Legal protections against SLAPPs exist and work today, but more are needed.

Passed in 1992, California’s anti-SLAPP statute established a special procedure to combat SLAPPs.  By allowing SLAPPs to be dismissed early on and award attorneys fees, it aims to take the power away from SLAPPs and protect people and free speech. This is why some corporations regularly lobby against the establishment of these laws. Today, we were the beneficiary of California’s strong anti-SLAPP statute. A huge corporation trying to silence us will now have to pay a portion of our attorneys fees. But not everywhere has these same legal protections. We do not have a federal US anti-SLAPP law and some state anti-SLAPP laws are too narrow. See how your State compares here. It is time that every jurisdiction has anti-SLAPP protections put in place.

9. Even more evidence that collaboration, and not conflict, pays off.

Today’s decision is a poignant reminder to global corporations that if concerned citizens knock on your door, the best advice is to find a way to work together and solve the problems we all face. Billion dollar corporations have become stronger and more sustainable by working with organizations like Greenpeace, instead of against us. We are reasonable people with genuine interest in collaboration. Time and energy, and definitely money, is better spent building trust and crafting solutions, rather than hoping abusive and bully tactics will silence civil society.

10. Now the courts can focus on actual mobsters!

Our democracy relies on a well-functioning legal system.  Gumming it up with abusive lawsuits, like this one that claimed we were a part of a ‘criminal enterprise’ using a racketeering law created to prosecute mobsters, takes judges’ and court time away from the things that actually need to be dealt with. Court resources are public resources, so clearing the docket of lawsuits like bully corporations trying to silence free speech, will always be a win for justice.

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Amy Moas

By Amy Moas

Amy Moas, Ph.D. is a senior forest campaigner for Greenpeace based in Las Vegas. She focuses on combating the drivers of deforestation around the world including palm oil, pulp and paper, and illegal logging.

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