CARSON CITY, Nev. (CN) – The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that state law protects a 2012 online petition started by the National Jewish Democratic Council accusing casino mogul Sheldon Adelson of allowing prostitution in Macau.
Justice James W. Hardesty wrote in a unanimous opinion that the petition, which drew a defamation lawsuit from the Republican-funding magnate, is protected by Nevada’s fair-report privilege law.
The petition implored then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to not accept campaign contributions from Adelson.
Linking to an Associated Press article, the petition said in block capital letters that Adelson “was accused of putting ‘foreign money’ from China in our elections & reportedly approved of prostitution” at his casino in Macau, an autonomous region of China dubbed the “Las Vegas of Asia.”
Adelson denied the claims, which the AP attributed to a fired Sands casino executive, and called them a “blatant and reprehensible attack” on his character.
The casino mogul sued the National Jewish Democratic Council, its president David Harris and its chairman Mark Stanley for publishing the petition.
The case is before the Second Circuit in Manhattan, which referred two questions to the Nevada Supreme Court.
The first is whether a hyperlink to a judicial proceeding qualifies as a report for the purpose of applying the common law fair-report privilege.
The second is whether Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law covers speech that seeks to influence an election but is not addressed to a government agency. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” and anti-SLAPP laws are meant to curtail frivolous or malicious lawsuits that have the potential to chill free speech.
In Nevada, fair-report privilege is most commonly used by media defendants in lawsuits, Hardesty wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. He said it also extends to anyone who republishes material from a judicial proceeding that is available to the general public.
The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that a hyperlink to source material about a judicial proceeding can suffice as a report for the purposes of the fair-report privilege law.
“The fair report privilege immunizes the petition drafters from civil liability because the AP hyperlink provided sufficient source attribution,” Hardesty wrote.
The state’s high court answered the anti-SLAPP law question in the affirmative.
“Communications with either the government or the public that are intended to influence an electoral result potentially fall under [the state law],” the 13-page opinion states.
Justices Michael Douglas, Mark Gibbons, Ron Parraguirre and Lidia Stiglich concurred with the decision.