“Game, set (match not yet) ” to Greenpeace. So said Jim Wheaton, analyzing the judge’s ruling in a landmark lawsuit brought against Greenpeace by a $3.5 billion logging company represented by Donald Trump’s personal attorneys. On behalf of Resolute Forest Products, lawyers with Kasowitz Benson Torres LLC accused the activist group of racketeering, arguing that Greenpeace’s campaigns against Resolute’s logging practices in Canada amounted to a criminal enterprise.
Observing oral arguments from the front row of US District Judge Jon S. Tigar’s courtroom in San Francisco, Wheaton anticipated an uphill climb for Resolute, telling The Nation, “California has a strong anti-SLAPP law.” SLAPP stands for a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” and in 1998 Wheaton helped write California’s counter-law, which curbs deep-pocketed entities’ ability to harass critics for exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
In his October 16 ruling, Tigar referenced California’s SLAPP law, which requires a plaintiff “to prove actual malice by the defendant,” said Wheaton, a founder of the First Amendment Project and lecturer at the University of California Berkeley Law School. “The judge said that [Resolute] didn’t meet that burden.”
Nevertheless, the case, which carries far-reaching implications for corporate power and political dissent as well as the dire status of the world’s forests and the fight against global warming, is not over. Initial news posts echoed press releases from Greenpeace and its fellow NGO defendant, Stand.earth, celebrating that Resolute’s lawsuit had been “dismissed.” This was technically true, but misleading.
Judge Tigar’s ruling did dismiss Resolute’s lawsuit, but it did so with “leave to amend.” Thus the logging company can file an amended complaint by November 6. Greenpeace et al. will then respond, and Tigar will issue a decision. (The judge signaled during oral arguments that he would follow this course, if only to preclude getting overruled on procedural grounds. “Otherwise, won’t the Ninth Circuit say, ‘Shouldn’t they have been giving a chance to fix their complaint?’” Tigar mused in a courtroom crowded with Greenpeace supporters.)
Twelve days before those oral arguments, Science published one of the most alarming studies of global environmental trends to appear in decades. The world’s tropical forests have been so degraded that they are no longer carbon sinks but rather carbon sources, reported scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University. That is, humans have felled and burned so many trees and vegetation that tropical forests have begun releasing more carbon than they are storing. If verified by further analysis, this is extremely bad news, not only for the forests and the people who depend upon them, but for the imperative of limiting and eventually reversing global warming. The US mainstream media predictably ignored the study, though The Guardian ran an incisive article.