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Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation and Petition Clause Immunity

July 2001

Citation: 31 ELR 10852

Issue: 7

Author: Lori Potter

Anna Weiland was proud of herself. For the first time in her 43 years, she became involved with local government, speaking out for her rights, filing a complaint. . . . Red Canyon Quarry then filed a lawsuit against Weiland. . . . Weiland says she learned a hard lesson. . . .1

Anna Weiland was not thinking of Aristotle, the Magna Carta, or anything remotely close to either of them when she filled out her county's citizen complaint form with her observations about quarry trucks speeding on a private road through her property. She simply availed herself of the local government's procedure for addressing public issues, and it seemed like the right thing to do.

Public participation in government has been encouraged and esteemed by philosophers from Aristotle to Doonesbury, by fundamental political documents from the Magna Carta to the U.S. Constitution, and by procedures and forms at every level of every branch of our government.2 In a representative democracy, public participation is nothing less than the cornerstone of the system—a bedrock principle that connects government to the governed. It legitimizes the system and helps to make government accountable. Public participation ranges from the sublime to the messy, and like Anna Weiland, on a day-to-day basis we rarely think about it in the exalted terms of its intellectual, legal, or policy underpinnings. We simply take for granted what is both obvious and invisible: public participation in government is a creed by which the nation lives.

Lori Potter is a member of the firm of Kelly, Haglund, Garnsey & Kahn L.L.C. in Denver, Colorado, with a practice in environmental and public land law. She is a co-founder of the SLAPP Resource Center, http://www.slapps.org, a nonprofit organization whose mission is providing information and resources on petition clause immunity and SLAPPs. The author thanks SLAPP Resource Center co-founders Penelope Canan, Frank Fink, Mark Goldowitz, and Rock Pring for comments on this Dialogue. She can be contacted via e-mail at lpotter@khgk.com.

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