Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart has failed in his attempt to knock out a defamation lawsuit by former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod, who is suing on grounds that a video of her was deceptively edited to portray her as racist.
Breitbart attempted to leverage DC’s new anti-SLAPP law by claiming Sherrod’s lawsuit was an impingement on his free speech, but a federal judge has denied that motion as well as another to move the case to California.
Sherrod is suing Breitbart, Breitbart’s colleague Larry O’Connor and an unnamed defendant over the release of a video clip and accompanying text on Breitbart’s website claiming the video offered proof that Sherrod, who is black, discriminated against white farmers. Sherrod, in her complaint, argues Breitbart made defamatory accusations of racism based on a “deceptively edited” clip that was taken out of context.
Breitbart and O’Connor had argued that they were engaging in protected speech under the First Amendment when they posted the clip and comments online. They also argued that if the case is not dismissed, it should be moved to U.S. District Court for Central California because it’s where Breitbart and O’Connor live and work on the Web-based businesses in question.
O’Connor’s attorney, Bruce Sanford of Washington’s Baker & Hostetler, in a statement this morning, reiterated his client’s belief that Sherrod “cannot form the basis of a libel action under longstanding American defamation law.”
“Anyone who looks at the tape of her speech or the excerpts put up by Andrew Breitbart can see that we are in the realm of pure opinion,” he said.
Breitbart and O’Connor are among the first parties in Washington to invoke D.C.’s new anti-SLAPP law, which went into effect March 31 and offers an early remedy, in the form of a special motion to dismiss that stays discovery pending resolution, for defendants who believe they are being sued over protected speech.
Sherrod challenged the applicability of the law in federal court and also argued that the defendants were time-barred from filing.