Illinois Anti-SLAPP Law Doesn’t Apply To Law Firm Blog Posts–Bock & Hatch v. McGuireWoods

PPP Board Member Eric Goldman writes in his blog:

We’re revisiting the important and entirely self-referential issue of defamation liability for blogging about judicial opinions. As I’ve discussed before (this post is perhaps my most heartfelt), blogging about judicial opinions is automatically risky because at least one side has already demonstrated their litigiousness. A wide range of legal doctrines insulate blogging about legal opinions, including the First Amendment, especially the fact/opinion line; courts’ treatment of online discussions as inherently rough-and-tumble; courts’ treatment of hyperlinks as supporting citations; the fair reporting privilege; and anti-SLAPP laws. Unfortunately for us legal bloggers, these legal doctrines have exceptions and limitations that leave us potentially exposed, as illustrated by today’s case.

The defendant is McGuireWoods, one of the 30 largest law firms in the country. In 2011, one of their attorneys, Andrew Traskblogged at the McGuireWoods-operated “Class Action Countermeasures” blog about a case in which the law firm Bock & Hatch represented the class-action plaintiffs. The 2011 post said, among other things, that “The trial court ruled that, while the firm’s actions displayed a lack of integrity, the proper remedy was discipline by the Illinois bar.” In 2013, Trask blogged a related case, saying the court “stated that in Ashford Gear, ‘one of the plaintiff’s firms, Bock & Hatch, had lied to a witness about keeping a list of possible faxes and recipients confidential.'” Bock & Hatch sued for defamation and violations of Illinois unfair competition law.

McGuireWoods defended on Illinois’ anti-SLAPP law, which protects the “rights of petition, speech, association, or to otherwise participate in government.” Unfortunately, because of the narrow coverage of this old-school anti-SLAPP law, it does not apply to this dispute...

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