AMERICAN FORK A series of lawsuits stemming from a 1999 editorial published in an American Fork newspaper will be the subject of the Utah Supreme Court's attention today.
William Jacob, an American Fork resident and businessman, was ordered in 2005 to pay $200,000 in attorney fees to Brett Bezzant, the former owner and publisher of the American Fork Citizen.
The case was the first test of the state's anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute, which was passed in 2001.
Anti-SLAPP statutes allow those sued for attempting to speak out or participate in government to file a countersuit.
"We have never sought for anything other than to get our attorney's fees back, and they have become so extensive that we really need to get them back," said Bezzant, who has racked up more than $250,000 in attorney fees throughout the 9-year process.
Bezzant published an editorial nearly nine years ago that contradicted claims that Jacob had made in a paid advertisement in the newspaper. In the advertisement, Jacob had made claims against two City Council candidates.
"(Jacob) published a flyer, which we felt like needed to be corrected before the election took place," said Bezzant, "but because I disagreed with him, I feel like he has brought on the suit to punish me in some way."
Jacob used the advertisement to question the eligibility of the two candidates. But after the editorial by Bezzant was distributed, he filed suit against Bezzant and American Fork. The lawsuit claimed that Bezzant and city officials conspired to violate his rights and that the newspaper defamed him.
Jacob does not think the anti-SLAPP statute applies to this situation. To prove that, he has appealed a district court ruling against him to the high court.
"We obviously feel that we have a good case, which is why we requested the court to see it, and we are optimistic that they will see the facts and the laws as we do," said Randall Spencer, attorney for Jacob.
While the legal process has been going on for years, and the decision of the Utah Supreme Court will not be known for what could be a few more months, Spencer doesn't feel that his client has been stalling the system in an attempt to punish Bezzant.
"We think that that is not a fair characterization of the facts," he said. "If you look at the record, Mr. Jacob moved to dismiss the whole thing in 2003. The only reason this case has continued on is because Mr. Bezzant did not accept the dismissal."
While Bezzant and his attorneys disagree, Bezzant remains confident that the appeal will not be successful."To date, they have never won any argument or motion," he said. "Anything we have argued against has been in our favor so I have a hard time believing that they are going to overrule the decision of the lower court."