The Uniform Public Expression Protection Act — anti-SLAPP legislation — moves for approval by Gov. Phil Murphy. (FILE PHOTO)

The Uniform Public Expression Protection Act — legislation aimed at eradicating lawsuits that target critics — sits on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, awaiting approval. Meanwhile, the state Press Association is urging him to sign.

Approved by state lawmakers June 30, the statute opposes strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. If Murphy signs the bipartisan bill, New Jersey will become the 33rd state to adopt anti-SLAPP legislation

SLAPPs are often brought by businesses, government bodies or elected officials against those who oppose them on issues of public concern, according to the ACLU of Ohio’s website. SLAPPs usually appear as civil claims, such as defamation, invasion of privacy, interference with contract or economic advantage.

In a July 7 letter, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New Jersey Press Association conveyed their support for the bill, arguing that SLAPPs are “particularly pernicious” for journalists and news organizations.

“Unflinching journalism is essential to expose wrongdoing and hold powerful public figures and officials to account,” the letter says. “Such vital news reporting depends upon journalists’ ability to identify, investigate, and report stories without fear that the subjects of their reporting will target them or their newsroom with costly, meritless litigation.”

Actions that have resulted in SLAPPs include writing letters to the editor, circulating flyers and commenting at public hearings, the ACLU of Ohio’s website says.

Based on legislation approved by the Uniform Law Commission, The Uniform Public Expression Protection Act would permit a party to file a special motion to expedite the dismissal of a SLAPP.

If signed by Murphy, the bill would take effect 30 days later.

In March, Peter Yacobellis, mayoral candidate and Montclair Councilor-at-Large, filed suit against David Herron and Martin Schwartz, alleging that the two defendants engaged in a “self-interested, defamatory smear campaign” intended to damage the councilor’s reputation.

Herron and Schwartz made statements during public comment at a February Montclair Township Council meeting alleging that Yacobellis has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from all votes, discussions and related communications connected to the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment.

At the meeting, Herron said that Yacobellis’ position as executive director of Out Montclair was a “direct conflict of interest” because the organization had received “monies, donations, financial support from individuals seeking to develop Lackawanna Plaza.”

In June, Yacobellis informed constituents he was withdrawing the suit.

“This was a decision I made out of a desire to try and put the need for some inner peace and community healing in front of the need to be right,” Yacobellis wrote in a statement. “I had a very strong case that I was prepared to litigate fully. But as a mayoral candidate now, this is a distraction and my focus needs to be on solving some of our larger challenges as a town.”

In a June email, Schwartz said that before withdrawing the case, Yacobellis, through his attorney, had offered to settle in May for $20,000 to recover his attorney fees and costs. Schwartz’s attorney had responded by calling Yacobellis’ suit a SLAPP.

10 replies on “Anti-SLAPP Legislation Moves to Murphy’s Desk”

  1. Yacobellis’s first big lie exposed in the campaign.

    He didn’t drop the lawsuit to heal, or to focus on his mayoral effort. He knew he had absolutely no case trying to silence constituents who only told him that he acted unlawfully for not following the NJ. conflict of interest statutes. And knew, that he faced a potential frivolous lawsuit filing from David Herron, with one day left timewise if he did not withdraw the suit against Herron — even before this SLAPP legislation passed. That’s because Peter would have to spend at least $30,000 in motion practice to continue the suit, while only getting his butt kicked later by a judge, for filing his ridiculous complaint. As he was privately warned would happen when advised by an official at the NJ. ACLU.

    And yet, even when trying to get out of his filed legal action, Yacobellis still tried to force David Herron to become his political front to the community. To make him appear to back Peter in the coming campaign. Turning Herron into his “Negro” as David calls it. While also trying to squeeze $20,000 from me for agreeing to drop the suit.

    A misplayed hand totally and David and I told him to stuff it. Let the judge decide. He didn’t. He ran for the hills.

    What’s actually sad here, is that some Montclairites initially defended the Councilor’s actions. Not seeing them first as a serious threat to political free speech, which is why this SLAPP legislation was pending. Now passed and put forth for the Governor’s signature. Also, not getting incensed and even making excuses for Peter that it was somehow ok he accepts monies from the Lackawanna developer through his work but then, didn’t know better to recuse himself from anything to do with David Placek’s project after. As the NJ. statutes specifically say for local elected officials. Even when indirect monies or indirect benefits are involved. So that the politician’s judgement and impartiality is not influenced in any way.

    If there really was no impropriety here, why didn’t David Placek then make a donation to Out Montclair in 2023 too? You know why. So get real, if this had been Sean Spiller, some of the same people defending Yacobellis would be up in arms. Which is why their voices now need to be silent during the campaign. They’ve lost the moral authority to advocate after this.

    And Peter still believes he’s above the law with this Lackawanna conflict of interest. He’s not recusing himself. Incredibly, he’s used an attorney to advise him and to sue us who actually even worked for developer David Placek. And who then made a major donation to become a sponsor to Out Montclair for the 2022 Pride Festival. Then submitted bids to become Montclair’s outside hired legal Counsel in 2023, to obtain legal services contracts from the Township for his firm. You can connect all the dots.

    In my opinion, Peter’s filing a lawsuit — responding to demands he follow the law, his attempts to silence opposition voices within social media threads then deleting comments, even blocking some on Facebook who disagree with him while attempting to shut down our resident’s emotional responses during a council meeting he led, all raise serious character issues today.

    Forget the excessive, self-promotion and political narcissism. If just this, one could excuse that in a politician, when some of their policy choices seen are ok. But here, these kinds of character flaws and personal issues to suppress dissent tell me that the person is actually a danger to the community IMO. Which is why, after originally being a major Peter supporter over the early issues seen – I’ve completely flipped. Along with many others now, I see the Yacobellis mayoral campaign as a major detriment for Montclair. And thus, those actively running with him and turning a blind eye supporting – carrying similar baggage and concern. Along with very poor judgement.

  2. “And thus, those actively running with him and turning a blind eye supporting – carrying similar baggage and concern. Along with very poor judgement.” – MS

    Who are these dastardly locals? Name names, please!

  3. Does anyone know how it works if a Council member can’t complete their term of office? Is it different for a Mayor v. Ward Councilor v. an At-Large Councilor? And, what happens in the case next year if they are elected, but do not take office? Before 7/1 or on 7/1?

  4. Martin may have some direct info, but I always assumed the call for a slate from PYs mayoral announcement was going to include a few of the outspoken folks you see at council meetings. It wouldn’t be prudent for them to announce anything right now, because then there criticism may be seen as mere political opportunism.

    That being said, some of those usual suspects appear to have turned on PY in favor of Russo. Guess we will find out soon enough!

  5. Frank,
    To answer your question, look up the Municipal Vacancy Law, NJSA 40A:16-1.
    Sorry I don’t have time to lay out the specifics.

    Regarding the subject of this article, Anti-SLAPP legislation, it seems that the Legislature finally admitted that the courts are being weaponized to suppress public criticism. I’d like to think that Councilor Yacobellis’ calculated and vicious lawsuit gave the final push to the law’s enactment! Don’t be fooled, however, by the Councilor’s insincere withdrawal of the lawsuit in the nick of time. Take note of his multiple efforts to silence the public and discourage legitimate criticism at the Council meetings themselves. The lawsuit was merely one salvo, albeit badly misfired, of an orchestrated PR campaign aimed to sell the public on the supposed capabilities and manufactured accomplishments of a novice newbie resident who wants to be Mayor.

  6. @Ira,
    You definitely had the time to answer. You guys are consumed by PY. And you know all the very disconcerting Mayor-elect scenarios, too. Imagine these and Trump, too! Maybe even a 21st century update of “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!”

    “Guess we will find out soon enough!” Actually, we won’t. For those with money & backing from the mountain, yes. But, I can assure you if there is one thing I know are candidates popping up and throwing a monkey wrench in the best laid plans.

    Pass the peas! Give me some more! These are the JB’s! Oh yeah!

  7. “Take note of his multiple efforts to silence the public and discourage legitimate criticism at the Council meetings themselves. The lawsuit was merely one salvo, albeit badly misfired, of an orchestrated PR campaign aimed to sell the public on the supposed capabilities and manufactured accomplishments of a novice newbie resident who wants to be Mayor. ”

    You said it, brother!

Comments are closed.