ACLU defended citizen’s First Amendment right to criticize developer

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, VA – A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge has issued a ruling against developer Roger W. Woody, who sued Christiansburg resident and blogger Terry Ellen Carter for complaining about a large mound of dirt on one of Woody’s properties. Judge Ray W. Grubbs held that the allegations in Woody’s lawsuit were not sufficient to support his claims that Carter’s speech was unlawful. Woody has three weeks after the judge’s order is issued to amend his complaint.
Woody sought more than $10,000,000 in damages from Ms. Carter, Tacy Newell –Foutz and two other Christiansburg residents who had been critical of the dirt pile and other debris. In his lawsuit, Woody claimed that Carter’s website, ThinkChristiansburg.com, injured him by referring to the dirt pile as “ Mount Woody” and publishing a picture of the pile on which the word “Woodyville” was superimposed.
Woody claimed that Carter and others illegally conspired to undermine his business, that they purposely interfered with his business operations, and that they committed libel. The ACLU of Virginia, which represented Carter, argued that Woody’s claim was groundless and that the First Amendment protects Carter’s right to criticize the dirt pile.
The ACLU called Woody’s case a SLAPP suit, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, wherein someone with considerable means sues someone who complains about them in public in order to silence them.
“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “The opinions expressed on Ms. Carter’s website should not have subjected her to a multi-million dollar lawsuit.”
“Free speech means you have a right to express your opinion of others,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “and that is all Ms. Carter did. There should never be a time in our society when citizens do not speak their minds because they fear a lawsuit being brought against them.”
ACLU cooperating attorney Jonathan Rogers of Floyd and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg represent Ms. Carter. The case was heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court on July 31, 2008.
A copy of the ACLU’s legal filing is available at http://www.acluva.org/docket/carter.html.

CONTACT: Kent Willis, (804) 644-8022

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