The defamation lawsuit of Calvary Chapel Visalia pastor Bob Grenier and his wife Gayle vs.Tim Taylor and Alex Grenier is taking place in Tulare County, California. A court hearing date is scheduled for February 19, 2013.
According to defendant Tim Taylor, the court there typically releases a tentative judgment online, on the day before the official court hearing. Since Monday is a federal holiday, the court has posted their tentative decision today and the actual day in court will be Tuesday, February 19. According to Tim’s sources, the losing side has the opportunity at that time to convince the judge to reverse the decision- but such a reversal rarely happens.
Here is the breaking news from Alex as of 2:30 PM on February 15:
The Judge’s decision was continued until February 26.
Julie Anne, SSB family, thank you so much for covering our story and for speaking out. We all need to continue to shine a bright light into the dark places.
Our hearing was continued to Feb. 26 with a tentative ruling now scheduled for Feb. 25 between 1pm-3pm PST.
Thank you again and keep speaking out against abuse in the church wherever it may occur.
We will add details as they become known, but wanted to update you on this important news in the latest report.
Background on SLAPP/Anti-SLAPP
An anti-SLAPP motion was filed by Tim Taylor and Alex Grenier, the defendants in this case. If you are wondering what an anti-SLAPP motion is, the following background should help. It comes from an analysis by regular Spiritual Sounding Board commenter, Brad (brad/futuristguy) Sargent. This is an excerpt from an extended review he did on the similar defamation lawsuit of Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith, where Spiritual Sounding Board blogger Julie Anne Smith was the main defendant for posting allegedly defamatory statements against her former pastor and church. Please keep in mind, the Analysis/Commentary section relates to anti-SLAPP in Oregon. The statutes in California may play out differently.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These are civil suits whose purposes are generally designed to silence or intimidate opponents. SLAPP suits are often frivolous and insidious, and are typically used by individuals or entities with “deep pockets” – ample funds to outlast and outlawyer their opponents.
This paragraph from the wikipedia article on SLAPP and anti-SLAPP is very instructive about this type of defamation lawsuit. I strongly suggest that ALL court documents, blog posts, blog comments, news interviews, and any other primary and secondary sources of information about an SLAPP case should be carefully evaluated with this information in mind:
“Other widely mentioned elements of a SLAPP are the actual effectiveness at silencing critics, the timing of the suit, inclusion of extra or spurious defendants (such as relatives or hosts of legitimate defendants), inclusion of plaintiffs with no real claim (such as corporations that are affiliated with legitimate plaintiffs), making claims that are very difficult to disprove or rely on no written record, ambiguous or deliberately mangled wording that lets plaintiffs make spurious allegations without fear of perjury, refusal to consider any settlement (or none other than cash), characterization of all offers to settle as insincere, extensive and unnecessary demands for discovery, attempts to identify anonymous or pseudonymous critics, appeals on minor points of law, demands for broad rulings when appeal is accepted on such minor points of law, and attempts to run up defendants’ costs even if this clearly costs more to the plaintiffs.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-SLAPP)
Typically, an anti-SLAPP motion is filed to counter SLAPP defamation lawsuits. It was designed to protect defendants from frivolous lawsuits. Many states have some version of an anti-SLAPP statute. Oregon is one of them. (As of January 2013, there is no federal anti-SLAPP statute in place. However, according to the Public Participation Project, 29 states currently have a statute.) The Anti-SLAPP statutes developed in California have served as a model for those in other states like Oregon, where the Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith court case was heard.
ANALYSIS/COMMENTARY – ANTI-SLAPP
How does an anti-SLAPP work? As best I can understand and explain it in relatively non-technical language, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion “freezes” or “suspends” the judicial process. So, the case does not go to a jury trial (as was requested in the O’Neal/BGBC lawsuit). Instead, the case goes before a judge and is given expedited treatment.
Also, filing of an anti-SLAPP motion means the suspension order goes into effect immediately. Neither plaintiffs nor defendants are allowed any further depositions or discovery process. This means they cannot search for additional evidence to support their case. (Apparently, the theory for stopping discovery and pushing up the court date schedule is that, should a civil suit prove to be unfounded or otherwise frivolous, the defendants will not have had to spend considerable time and funds to comply with the draining demands of the plaintiffs.)
This all means that the judge considers only the evidence at hand – making his/her decision based on the official Complaint documents from plaintiffs, any response documents from defendants, and any counter-responses. Plus, in-person presentations in the courtroom. In this kind of defamation/freedom of speech case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs to show substantial evidence that the allegations are “actionable items” of “provable facts” and the defendant(s) knowingly “defamed” by telling a lie (not an opinion, and not merely believing they were telling the truth) and did so with “absolute malice” (wreckless disregard). (There will be leads shortly on what these more technical issues mean.)
If the plaintiffs demonstrate their case clearly enough and the anti-SLAPP motion fails, the defendants could appeal. If the defendants’ appeal fails, then the lawsuit goes forward with discovery, depositions, jury trial if requested, and cross-examination. If the anti-SLAPP motion succeeds because the plaintiffs fail to give substantial enough evidence, then the lawsuit is over (unless the plaintiffs appeal).
So – since plaintiffs hold the responsibility to give “substantial evidence” that their allegations of the defendants’ statements indeed constitute “defamation,” the key implication in the Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith is this: Once the anti-SLAPP motion went into effect, the plaintiffs and their legal counsels were pretty much stuck with working within what evidence they had already submitted. There are indicators from sources other than my opinion that the BGBC v. Smith plaintiffs’ documents were poorly drafted, and done without consideration that an anti-SLAPP motion might be filed. […] And all of this seemed to set the plaintiffs’ team off in an almost unrecoverable direction, right from the start.
~ Brad [brad/futuristguy] Sargent, January 2013
P.S. The Citizen Media Law Project also has a page that overviews Anti-SLAPP Law in California specifically.