Developers vs. free speech

reason was going to run an article about touchy developers who sue people for criticizing their abuse of eminent domain. One of those developers is H. Walker Royall of Dallas, who sued Wright Gore III over a website that detailed the city of Freeport’s attempt to condemn land occupied by the Western Seafood Company, a business owned by Gore’s family, so Royall could use it for a luxury marina project.

Royall also sued Carla Main, a journalist whose 2007 book Bulldozed chronicles the legal struggle over the Gores’ land. He sued Main’s publisher, Encounter Books. He sued University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, one of the country’s leading authorities on eminent domain, for writing a blurb that appeared on the cover of Main’s book. He even sued two newspapers that published reviews of it.

reason also was planning to mention Richard Swift, a city councilman in Clarksville, Tennessee, and Wayne Wilkinson, a member of the city’s Downtown District Partnership. Swift and Wilkinson sued the Clarksville Property Rights Coalition over a May 2008 newspaper ad that condemned a redevelopment project involving eminent domain. The ad noted that Swift, Wilkinson, and Clarksville Mayor Johnny Piper “are all developers,” adding, “This redevelopment plan is of the developers, by the developers, and for the developers.” The city council approved the plan anyway, and now Swift and Wilkinson are demanding $500,000 for the damage the ad did to their reputations.

reason was going to discuss how these developers’ abuse of defamation lawsuits threatens freedom of speech in the same way that their abuse of eminent domain threatens property rights. But the Institute for Justice, which represents Main, Epstein, and Encounter Books in the case brought by Royall and the Clarksville property rights activists in the case brought by Swift and Wilkinson, had some words of warning. Even if defamation lawsuits against critics of eminent domain abuse fail in court, I.J. notes, “the large expenditure of time and money associated with defending them all too often accomplishes the goal of silencing those who stand up for their rights.”

So reason decided not to run an article about these cases after all.

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