U.S. Laura Prather, a First Amendment lawyer and one of the first winners of ALM’s Tony Mauro Media Lawyer Award, has been named a Fulbright Scholar to spend this fall in Paris researching how meritless lawsuits have affected human rights in the European Union, and to advocate for improvements.
In her research, Prather, who is based in Austin, Texas and heads the media law practice group at Haynes and Boone, will work with Reporters Without Borders to evaluate the trends, cultural influences and legal systems that contribute to the rise of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits), and also look at regulatory efforts to prevent SLAPPs.
Prather said she was selected into the Fulbright Schuman European Union Affairs Program, which focuses on policy-oriented research that is important in the EU and the U.S.
“That really is the sweet spot. The Fulbright folks want to encourage this super-national research where both sides of the Atlantic can benefit from the project,” she said.
For several years, Prather said, she has been hoping to do a comparative analysis of how the EU and the U.S. approach SLAPP suits.
“What you are dealing with is a core human rights issue—freedom of expression,” she said.
She said it’s become an issue in Europe since 2017, when an investigative journalist in Malta who faced 42 libel suits filed by Maltese politicians and their business associates was killed by a car bomb.
“That was the wake-up call to the European Union, that they have to do something to address this form of judicial harassment,” Prather said.
Prather, who in 2011 helped create Texas’ anti-SLAPP law, The Texas Citizens Participation Act, has for many years advocated for the press in Texas through legislation and litigation. She also was an advisor to the Uniform Law Commission in its drafting of a Model anti-SLAPP law.
In the U.S., 32 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., have anti-SLAPP laws. In April, the EU proposed a directive that would allow judges to quickly dismiss SLAPP suits filed against journalists and civil rights activists.
The Fulbright Scholar will work in Europe from September through early January, and she will write a comparative research paper. Her goals with the paper are to increase global awareness of the problem with SLAPP suits, and encourage cross-border cooperation and meaningful changes in the law.
Antoine Bernard, director of advocacy and strategic litigation for Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement that Prather’s research into SLAPPs is “extraordinarily timely” because judicial harassment through lawsuits targeting public interest journalism and citizen watchdogs is increasing in Europe, and that “impedes the ability of the general public to obtain necessary and accurate information.”
Prather’s work will help the 70 organizations that have formed the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE), which is working on the implementation of the EU anti-SLAPP directive that was proposed in April, Bernard said.