Lawsuit called SLAPP in the face

Lawyer says library architect wants to stifle freedom of speech

September 17, 2008 at 8:57 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

An attorney representing Gwen Dufrene, a Bayou Gauche resident who was sued by architect Norman Chenevert, has asked the 19th Judicial Court in East Baton Rouge Parish to throw out the lawsuit against his client based on Louisiana's Anti-SLAPP law.

John Massicot, Dufrene's attorney, argues that the lawsuit filed by Norman Chenevert is a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit.

“The lawsuit is designed to suppress the defendant's constitutional right to freedom of speech,” he said in court documents. “Although Chenevert alleges defamation, he never reveals any defamatory words that were spoken against him in the lawsuit.”

Dufrene's attorney also points out that Chenevert doesn't reveal any third party that Dufrene communicated with to attack his character, nor does he prove any malicious act that's been committed against him.

“The action against Ms. Dufrene was done in an attempt to suppress her right to freedom of speech and public participation guaranteed to her by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” he wrote in the documents. “Chenevert cannot meet the burden of proof.”

Dufrene has been an opponent of Chenevert Architects, LLC contract to build the new East Regional Library. Chenevert brought suit against Dufrene alleging that her accusations had hurt his business reputation in the Baton Rouge community.

The Louisiana Anti-SLAPP laws were designed to protect residents who want to speak out against something they believe in without being “frivolously sued.”

SLAPP suits are filed not to win, but to punish someone with embarrassment, ridicule, and costly litigation for speaking out publicly on some issue, according to Dufrene's attorney.
Dufrene is not only asking the court to drop the lawsuit against her, but is asking that all lawyer's fees and court cost be reimbursed to her attorney.

“After reading a news article about the proposed new library and that the present neighborhood library was to close, I decided to research the issue,” Dufrene said. “I never thought I'd be a part of a lawsuit because of it.”

Dufrene read The Act of Donation for the property given to the parish and says it's the scariest document she's ever seen.

“The words ‘hazardous materials' take up page after page,” she said. “That led me to research the issue further.”
Dufrene says, in her opinion, documentation showed that something wasn't right with the architect's contract.
“Option IV, under options to provide service to the community during the expansion construction, showed a possible conflict of interest with the architect working for both the Library Board and British Petroleum, the oil company that donated the parish the land,” Dufrene said.

According to Dufrene, Chenevert was hired as the library's architect and as the master planner for the property donated to the library.

Dufrene says she is against the new library because of the change in the scope of the project from expansion of the old site to the construction of a $9 million library. She also says the acceptance of the donated land and the building of the library are both "suspicious."

Because of the new library, she feels other areas of the parish are being deprived of a library of their own.
“Those are the reasons for my not being able to let the library issue go,” she said. 

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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