True-crime author Ann Rule’s defamation suit against former Chieftain editor and publisher Rick Swart has been given new life by the Washington (state) Supreme Court’s May 28 decision striking down the state’s anti-SLAPP law, upon which the suit’s dismissal a year ago was largely based.
On Monday, June 22, a three-judge panel in Washington’s Court of Appeals remanded the case to trial court for further proceedings, with instructions to vacate an earlier judgment entered against Rule.
In 2013, the author brought suit against Swart, the Seattle Weekly, and a former Seattle Weekly editor who was with the publication at the time it ran Swart’s 2011 free-lance article criticizing Rule’s information-gathering for her 2003 book, “Heart Full of Lies,” about Liysa Northon’s October 2000 killing of her then-husband, Chris Northon, at a campsite on the Lostine River.
Swart’s article also complained that Rule had inaccurately portrayed Liysa Northon’s character. Although Liysa Northon was convicted of manslaughter and received a 12-year prison sentence in her husband’s shooting death, Swart argued the woman was really a victim of spousal abuse and the criminal justice system had failed her.
Swart, who would later marry the convicted killer, didn’t tell the Seattle Weekly when he submitted his article that the pair were romantically involved.
In February 2014, a King County Superior Court judge dismissed Rule’s suit, agreeing with the defense that it violated Washington’s Anti-SLAPP law, which protects individuals from “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” — suits that essentially silence critics and penalize free speech in the public arena.
Washington enacted the law in 2010. In the recently written view of the state’s high court, though, the law was fatally flawed in that it sought “to protect one group of (citizens’) constitutional rights of expression and petition — by cutting off another group’s constitutional rights of petition and jury trial.”