Maine high court: Anti-SLAPP law precludes defamation suit

By The Associated Press
03.25.08

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has struck down a defamation lawsuit filed against a former legislator from Frankfort who claimed that the plaintiff was using the court system to try to stifle free speech in a political debate.

The case stemmed from a letter that R. Kenneth Lindell sent to the Republican Journal in Belfast in 2006 in response to a critic's letter taking him to task for his stance on legislation.

Lindell's letter suggested that Joyce Schelling of Orland backed the bill, which he opposed, because she could have benefited financially from it. In her lawsuit, Schelling claimed Lindell's letter caused her embarrassment, anxiety and loss of sleep and concentration.

Lindell sought dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that it violated Maine's so-called anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute. Known as the Anti-SLAPP Law, the measure is intended to protect a citizen's right to directly or indirectly petition the government through public discourse.

In his letter, Lindell had suggested that Schelling used her "political clout" as a member of the Natural Resources Council of Maine to promote the bill so companies like her employer, Recycled Office Products, could benefit by procuring purchasing contracts with the state.

Lindell applauded the March 20 ruling in Schelling v. Lindell. "For the stress and expense this has put my family through, I'm glad we've been able to contribute something to protect the First Amendment," he said.

Schelling, who had called Lindell's letter to the editor a "nasty, personal attack," expressed disappointment. She said Lindell prevailed in a narrow legal argument about the anti-SLAPP statute and whether the letter had caused her any economic injury.

Lindell, who served two years in the House, said the lawsuit likely played a role in his defeat. He said the high court decision "won't hurt" his bid to win the District 41 seat back this year.