Special Circuit Court Judge Andrew Combs of Coos County has dismissed a defamation lawsuit Brookings-area resident Catherine Wiley filed against four individuals.
Wiley claimed they said she was being hypocritical for pushing county commissioners to implement a travel policy last year while having spent county funds to travel herself. She also noted county personnel failed to redact personal information, particularly bank account numbers, in documents given to a citizen as part of a public records request; those documents were later shared on social media.
Wiley’s suit named county Commissioner Court Boice, State Rep. David Brock Smith’s chief of staff Shelia Megson, attorney Ted Fitzgerald and Cape Ferrelo resident Jan Barbas as defendants.
The suit was filed in Circuit Court in early October and asked for damages of $25,000 from each.
Wiley referred questions about the case to attorney Judy Snyder of Portland.
“I’ve done a good bit of litigation in defamation and SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suits,” Snyder said. “I was just asked this week to take a look at the file. I was asked to take another look at (the Curry County) case, to provide her with a second opinion, to help her decide what to do.”
Snyder is known for her experience in high-stakes litigation and legal malpractice.
Megson filed a motion to “quit” the case, Fitzgerald joined her, Boice said.
“The judge ruled that these people should not be threatened with legal action because they have personal opinions with ongoing community concerns, which is all part of normal and anticipated public discourse,” Boice said in a press release Friday. “He did not find defamations claimed by Catherine Wiley or any other reason for the lawsuit to continue, and further made it clear that all information in question was sourced directly and properly from the original public records request.”
The judge ruled the case was a SLAPP suit — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — defined by the Legal Information Institute website as a one that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.
“I believe we are done with these ridiculous political, punitive and defamatory legal litigations,” Boice said. “They are an awful drain on the resources of our citizens, the negative Curry reputation around Oregon and certainly the personal expenses required to defend.”