Anti-SLAPP Law Protects Free Speech in Olympia Co-op Israel Boycott Case, Attorneys Say

press@ccrjustice.org

November 21, 2014, Olympia, WA – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights and co-counsel Davis Wright Tremaine LLP filed a brief at the request of the Washington Supreme Court urging the court to uphold the lower courts’ decisions to dismiss a meritless lawsuit against Olympia Food Co-op board members for boycotting Israeli goods and to uphold the state’s Anti-SLAPP law. That law protects against what are called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPPs are lawsuits filed because of the defendants’ speech or public participation on a matter of public concern.  They are intended to silence the defendants by burdening them with the costs and stressors of a lawsuit.  

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents 16 current and former members of the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op who were sued in 2011 by five members of the co-op over the decision to boycott Israeli goods as part of the BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions—movement. The Trial Court and the Court of Appeals dismissed their case as a SLAPP and upheld the constitutionality of the Anti-SLAPP statute; in October, the Washington Supreme Court agreed to hear plaintiffs’ petition for review and permitted the parties to file supplemental briefs.
 
“This case against Olympia Food Co-op volunteer board members, most of whom, three years later, no longer serve on the board, is a quintessential SLAPP suit brought to chill speech on issues of public concern,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood. “It is a particularly egregious example of a widespread, well-funded effort to silence speech critical of Israel – speech that is protected by the First Amendment and by Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute.”
 
CCR has fought against myriad forms of repression against people who speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights in the United States.  These silencing efforts have included attempts to curb student activism, such as with a student event at Brooklyn College on Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions; to pass legislation that limits the right to boycott, such as bills introduced in response to a resolution passed by theAmerican Studies Association; and to punish university faculty for their speech critical of Israel, as in the case of Professor Steven Salaita.  
 
“Frankly, every Washington citizen has a right to take a principled stand on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy and not get dragged into expensive and baseless retaliatory litigation as a result,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who drafted Washington State’s Anti-SLAPP law.
 
In April, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s swift dismissal of the lawsuit, holding that it was a SLAPP suit and that participation in the boycott is protected by the First Amendment. The court also affirmed $160,000 in statutory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs for the board members, and awarded attorneys’ fees for the appeal. 
 
“We are now in our fourth year of dealing with this lawsuit against our volunteers and staff. Regardless of what one thinks about Israel, Palestine, or the Co-op's participation in the boycott, these dedicated individuals do not deserve to shoulder the stress of this baseless lawsuit,” board member Joshua Simpson said. “We hope that the Supreme Court's decision will uphold those of the lower courts and end this litigation.”
 
Today’s supplemental briefing can be read, along with other information about the Olympia Co-op case here.
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al with CCR cooperating counsel Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, and Steven Goldberg from Portland, Oregon, along with Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson, Ambika Doran, and Angela Galloway of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com/.
 
The Olympia Food Co-op is a member-based, not-for-profit, natural foods grocery store with two locations in Olympia, WA. The Olympia Food Co-op has provided healthy, organic and local food to the Olympia area since 1977, with an emphasis on promoting social and environmental responsibility. The stores are collectively managed and largely volunteer-run. Visit www.olympiafood.coop.
 

Last modified 

November 21, 2014