In a case of first impression, the Connecticut Supreme Court in Lafferty, et al. v. Jones, et al. held that the imposition of sanctions based on certain comments made about the case by a defendant did not violate his first amendment right to free speech under the United States constitution.
In Lafferty, the plaintiffs brought an action against the defendant Alex Emric Jones and “his affiliated corporate entities” for statements made during his radio show concerning the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The defendants subsequently filed special motions to dismiss pursuant to the Connecticut anti-SLAPP statute codified as Conn. Gen. Stat. §52-196a(b). Prior to the adjudication of the special motions to dismiss, Mr. Jones accused the plaintiff’s attorney during a radio broadcast of “committing a felony and then harassed, intimidated and threatened him,” which included placing a “one million dollar bounty” on him.
Thereafter, the plaintiffs filed motions requesting that the trial court review the broadcast. At a hearing the trial court sanctioned the defendants by “revoking their opportunity to pursue the merits of their special motions to dismiss” based on the statements that Mr. Jones made during the broadcast. The defendants then filed a public interest appeal in which they argued that the trial court “improperly sanctioned them in violation of their first amendment rights.”
On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the imposition of sanctions. In reaching its decision, it conducted a comprehensive review of U.S. Supreme Court decisions addressing the limits of free speech under the first amendment. Relying on these decisions, the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded that “if extrajudicial speech by a party to litigation poses an imminent and likely threat to the administration of judicial proceedings at issue, a court may sanction a party for that speech.” In applying this new standard, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the revocation of the special motions to dismiss did not violate the defendants’ first amendment rights.
In sum, Connecticut litigants should be mindful that courts have the authority to impose serious sanctions for extrajudicial statements about an action which cross the line drawn by the Connecticut Supreme Court in Lafferty. For more information on this case, or on this topic generally, please contact Richard Fennelly in our Hartford, Connecticut office at firstname.lastname@example.org.