Citing California’s anti-SLAPP laws, lawyers for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the group’s executive director Lin Oliver will seek to have a defamation suit filed against them by Thirteen Reasons Why author Jay Asher thrown out.
In a motion shared with PW this week, lawyers for the defendants argue that Asher cannot establish “a probability of success on the merits,” and that “as a public figure,” his complaint should be stricken under California’s robust anti-SLAPP statute. Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect against lawsuits (known as SLAPPs—Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) that would otherwise chill free speech and coerce parties into remaining silent.
In addition, lawyers argue that Caifornia's anti-SLAPP statute essentially "requires" that Asher be ordered to pay the defendants' legal fees and costs. "SCBWI and Ms. Oliver have been forced to respond to Plaintiff’s meritless Complaint by filing this anti-SLAPP motion, thereby incurring significant attorney's fees."
Accused by several women of sexual harassment last year, Asher steadfastly denied the charges and in January filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging that Oliver and SCBWI made "false and defamatory statements about him that unfairly damaged his reputation and career." Asher is seeking monetary damages for “defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
In seeking to strike Asher’s complaint, however, attorneys for Oliver and SCBWI argue that since Asher can’t show that any of the defendants’ statements “were extreme or outrageous” or "intended to inflict emotional distress," he is unlikely to prevail.
“In response to serious allegations in the children's publishing industry and against Plaintiff specifically during the height of the #MeToo movement, SCBWI and Ms. Oliver acted in a careful and measured manner to address the issues facing them,” the motion states. “Plaintiff seeks to blame SCBWI and Ms. Oliver for the negative fallout caused by his own bad decisions and poor behavior. No evidence Plaintiff will be able to produce will show that any emotional distress he claims to be suffering is anybody's fault but his own.”
In the filing, attorneys for Oliver and SCBWI informed the court that they plan to make their motion to dismiss in an appearance scheduled for April 23.
In a statement to PW, Asher's attorney, Patrick L. Fisher, said the defendants' motion to strike the suit was routine, and without merit.
“We hope the judge allows us to prove to a jury that SCBWI knowingly issued false statements to the media. There was no allegation, investigation, or finding that Mr. Asher violated SCBWI’s code of conduct. An investigation would have shown these relationships were between consenting adults that Mr. Asher had no power over and did not harass. An investigation would have shown this to be a continuation of vindictive harassment Mr. Asher has been subjected to for a decade. SCBWI used its status to greatly damage the reputation of one of the country’s leading young adult authors, someone who spent his entire career standing up for victims and fighting harassment."
Asher, through his attorney, also responded to the filing. “I repeatedly tried to get Lin Oliver to set the record straight. I provided her with witnesses who could refute the allegations, but she refused to contact them. I offered proof with emails, texts, and a polygraph test, but she refused to investigate. Instead, she relied on anonymous and contradictory claims. This left me no choice other than filing a lawsuit to set the record straight.”
This story has been updated to include statements from Jay Asher, and his attorney.