ACLU alleges that Interstate Stream Commission attempted to bully concerned citizen into silence
ALBUQUERQUE, NM—Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico announced that it is defending Norman Guame, an environmental advocate, against a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAAP) filed by the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) in an attempt to intimidate and silence Guame. In 2001, the New Mexico legislature made it illegal to file a lawsuit seeking money damages against a person in retaliation for conduct or speech made in connection with a public hearing or public meeting.
Guame, a retired director of the ISC, filed for a temporary restraining order against the ISC after he became convinced that they had violated the New Mexico Open Meetings Act during their consideration of a controversial project to dam the Gila River to supply water for area agricultural and urban needs. In retaliation, the ISC filed a lawsuit demanding Guame pay more than $100,000 in damages that they allege the restraining order caused the ISC in associated fees and delays.
“Governments shouldn’t use the courts to bully concerned citizens into silence,” said ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney Daniel Yohalem. “People in our country have a fundamental right to petition their government concerning matters of public importance. When the ISC files a lawsuit seeking exorbitant amounts of money in retaliation for the simple act of speaking out, it has a chilling effect on the ability of citizens to participate in public processes.”
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes that citizens have a right to “petition their government for redress of grievances.” The ACLU of New Mexico holds that Guame was engaging in precisely this constitutionally protected speech when he successfully petitioned the court to temporarily restrain the Gila River Diversion Project until the ISC restored transparency to the planning process. The ACLU of New Mexico also holds that the subsequent counterclaim that the ISC brought against Guame is a SLAPP suit meant to retaliate for his engaging in this constitutionally protected activity.
“My actions have always been a good faith effort to hold the ISC accountable to the laws of our state and the best interest of the people of New Mexico,” said plaintiff Norman Guame. “It is wrong for the ISC to abuse the legal system in an attempt to intimidate me and other concerned citizens into silence.”
ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorneys Philip Davis and Daniel Yohalem represent the plaintiff in this case.