Judge Laura Inveen dismissed the suit under Washington’s Anti-slapp statue after Rule failed to provide a single example of a false statement in the Seattle Weekly article”Ann Rule’s sloppy Storytelling” published in July 2011.
Rule had publicly claimed that the article ran unedited and contained “innumerable false statements.” both of these claims were proven to be false. Rule also told the court she had lost book sales due to the article and that her publisher had not renewed her contract.
“We feel vindicated by the findings of the court,” said Rick Swart. This is a victory not only for me, but for every journalist who relies on First Amendment protection of free speech.” Swart said the court’s ruling is significant because it bolsters Washington’s Anti-Slapp statute. The SLAPP statute (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) was amended in 2010 to expand protection of individuals from lawsuits used by the rich and powerful to silence their critics. The Anti-SLAPP measures were enacted as a means to prevent the courts from being misused as a method of silencing constitutionally protected speech.
“This case is the epitome of the kind of mean-spirited speech-chilling harassment the Washington Legislature wanted to stop when it passed the Anti-SLAPP law,” said Swart.
Inveen awarded Swart and the other defendants $10,000 each in damages, plus attorneys fees and costs.
In his article, Swart, a veteran journalist, pointed out how corrupt police, prosecutors and courts had failed Liysa Northon, a victim of domestic abuse, who shot and killed her husband in the fall of 2000 in a desperate attempt to protect herself and her two children from further harm. Northon was convicted of manslaughter in the case and served 12 years in prison because Oregon repeatedly failed to adhere to the Violence Against Women Act laws. Rule made Northon the villain in her book “Heart Full of Lies,” but Swart investigated the case and proved that many of the statements in the book were false.
“Rule admitted that she never interviewed Liysa or members of her immediate family,” said Swart. “As one who believes that getting both sides is essential to responsible reporting, this failure on her part is unconscionable.” Swart’s article also pointed out that Rule ignored evidence exonerating Northon.
“This decision does not erase the horror that Liysa experienced as the result of an abusive husband, a corrupt system and a sloppily written book, but it is at least one small step toward the redemption that Liysa needs and deserves,” Swart said. “My training as a journalist taught me that my first priority was to tell the truth and tie voice to the disenfranchised. I was taught to dig below the surface, question those who are in authority, and not to simply accept the propaganda of the powerful as gospel.”
Northon and Swart married in September of 2011 and are now pushing for stronger laws to protect victims of domestic violence. They are currently working with legislators to craft a comprehensive Domestic Violence Shield Law that will be introduced in the 2015 Oregon legislative session.