Oklahoma ex-DA and newspaper appeal judge’s decision on state free speech law

CLAREMORE — Former Rogers County District Attorney Janice Steidley and the Claremore Daily Progress have appealed their legal dispute over the state’s new free speech and petition law to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

District Judge Russell Vaclaw a month ago dismissed Steidley’s October, 2015, defamation lawsuit against the paper on the basis it violated the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act to protect against meritless legal actions challenging free speech and petition rights.

But the judge did not require Steidley to pay the paper’s attorney fees despite a provision in the law requiring losing plaintiffs to do so.

Steidley appealed Vaclaw’s rejection of her lawsuit alleging libel and invasion of privacy; the paper appealed his decision to not award it the cost of defending against the suit.

Oklahoma enacted what is commonly known in legal circles as anti-SLAPP legislation in November of 2014. SLAPP is an acronym for strategic laws against public participation.

Steidley, who served as district attorney from 2011 to 2015, sued the paper and five residents of Rogers County in connection with a citizens’ petition for a local grand jury investigation of her office.

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