A citizen journalist fights off a lawsuit aimed at silencing him
Last September the owners of the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville, MA, SLAPP'd Thomas "T.J." Keen hard. In the end, he slapped them back harder.
Keen, a Plainville resident and gambling opponent, set up a website called No Plainville Racino to fight a proposed slots license at the track. As Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham described it, Keen's troubles began after someone broke into his home and he gave a webcam image to the Plainville Police. The picture made its way onto a related Facebook page that another gambling opponent had started. An anonymous commenter wrote, "I wonder if they checked over at the racetrack, lol."
Ourway Realty, which owns the track, sued Keen for defamation on the basis of that anonymous comment. Keen countersued, arguing that Ourway's legal action had been filed for the sole purpose of stifling public debate and thus violated the state's anti-SLAPP law. (SLAPP stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation.")
In the end, Keen — and the right of citizens to speak out — prevailed. Judge Patrick Brady of Norfolk Superior Court tossed aside the suit and awarded Keen nearly $25,000 to cover his legal costs, according to TheSun Chronicle of Attleboro.
"I'm happy that the court has affirmed affected citizens' right to petition and make their voice heard in these community-changing debates," Keen said in a statement released by the ACLU of Massachusetts, which helped represent him. "Residents should not be intimidated or bullied by deep-pocketed firms looking to quash their dissenting voice."
Maine Department of Transportation
Keeping records about a controversial highway from the public view
A private developer has proposed a $2 billion, 220-mile highway connecting Calais to the east and Coburn Gore to the west — and all documents pertaining to the project are under seal. That's because of a 2010 exemption to Maine's right-to-know law that, as the Portland Press-Herald editorialized, "you could drive a truck through."
Under the exemption, records about the proposed "east-west highway" will remain secret until the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) decides whether to move ahead. This lack of accountability is an outrageous breach of the public trust. By rights, the officials responsible for writing and passing the 2010 exemption deserve the Muzzle. We'll award it to the DOT as their proxy.
Fortunately, advocates of open government succeeded in undoing the worst of the 2010 exemption. On June 5, Governor Paul LePage signed legislation that maintains the legitimate need to protect confidential business information and trade secrets while subjecting most aspects of such partnerships to public scrutiny.
"Decisions about whom the government enters into partnership with and how officials spend our taxpayer money are certainly matters of public importance," wrote Rachel Healy, communications director for the ACLU of Maine, in a commentary for the New England First Amendment Center.
The east-west highway is a controversial idea. According to the Associated Press, business owners this spring told the legislature's transportation committee that the highway would cause them significant harm. They — and everyone in Maine — deserve to be treated with respect. A transparent process will provide that.