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ACLU to file in City Paper fight against Snyder

Tuesday - 7/19/2011, 5:33am  ET

Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today will file a brief arguing that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder must prove quickly that Washington City Paper knowingly published false and harmful information in the November story at the center of Snyder's defamation lawsuit.

"The ACLU asked and was granted permission to file an amicus curiae brief, and we'll be doing that today," Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation's Capital, tells WTOP.

Snyder is seeking $1 million in a suit filed in D.C. Superior Court against the City Paper, its parent company and the article's author, Dave McKenna.

ACLU is not a party to a case, but is offering information in its amicus filing to help the court decide the matter.

"The D.C. Council just last year passed a new law making it easier to have frivolous lawsuits dismissed," says Spitzer.

Spitzer says the statute "provides an additional level of free speech about public affairs, including public figures."

"Under the new anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation law, if a public figure can show speech against him is false and the writer knew it was false, the suit can proceed," Spitzer says.

"If not, the case has to be dismissed."

In his lawsuit, Snyder's lawyer wrote: "Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation and defend himself and his wife against your paper's concerted attempt at character assassination."

The City Paper's editors have stood by McKenna's article, saying the partially tongue-in-cheek recounting of Snyder's tenure as Redskins owner was clearly within free speech protections.

City Paper Managing Editor Mike Madden declined comment.

Daniel Snyder's attorney, David M. Snyder, had no comment. Contacted by WTOP, Snyder spokesman Tony Wyllie said, "We have no comment."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)