D.C. Unveils “Retroactive” Law To Protect Schools

Pro-life campaigners who were sued by Two Rivers Public Charter School when they  protested to stop the building of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility across the street from the school are now asking the DC Court of Appeals to award them up to $1.1 million in attorney’s fees.

According to a report, due to the city’s late haste to exclude government institutions and publicly funded charter schools from the anti-SLAPP ordinance, the ACLU’s D.C. chapter and pro-life advocates became unintended allies.

The school said sidewalk leafleting, gory aborted fetuses, and verbal contact in three rallies created a nuisance and purposeful emotional distress. Last August, the appeals court dismissed the claim for lack of standing after six years. 

Judge Anthony Epstein denied Ruby Nicdao, Larry Cirignano, and Jonathan Darnel’s attorney’s fees, citing “special circumstances.”

The report reveals that in 2021, then-AG Karl Racine secured retroactive emergency revisions to the anti-SLAPP legislation to safeguard the city’s litigation from 2011. 

Epstein’s Sept. 12 opinion said Two Rivers wasn’t protected by the interim statute because it’s a distinct business and the complaint wasn’t a government action.

Three months later, the local ACLU cautioned that a permanent version of the amendments had appeared in a “corrections oversight improvement” statute that had no bearing on public charters but now, for some reason, also covered them retrospectively.

On Monday, the activists’ legal team, which included private lawyers and public interest organizations, including the Thomas More Society and Liberty Counsel, submitted a combined reply brief in the case. 

According to a legal reference website, the purpose of anti-SLAPP legislation is to help people who are being sued for exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly, petition, press, and association, rapidly have the case dismissed on the grounds that it lacks substance. These statutes were enacted so that people would think twice before initiating a SLAPP complaint, which might result in astronomical legal fees and a chilling effect on free expression.