The new complaint, filed April 22, asserts that Churchwell White lawyers used the lawsuit to “silence, intimidate, and prevent WCWC from engaging in conduct that is protected under the U.S. and California constitutions.”

A group of Weed citizens have filed a lawsuit in the Siskiyou County Court against a Sacramento lawfirm and two of its attorneys for “malicious and unlawful conduct” related to a lawsuit filed against them in 2017.

Churchwell White LLP filed the lawsuit on behalf of Roseburg Forest Products against nine Weed activists and their community organization Water for Citizens of Weed, California, known as WCWC.

The new complaint, filed April 22, asserts that Churchwell White lawyers used the lawsuit to “silence, intimidate, and prevent WCWC from engaging in conduct that is protected under the U.S. and California constitutions.”

Filed in May of 2017, the original suit was dismissed in December of that year under the state’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. The suit focused on WCWC’s assertion that the city has historic rights to Beaughan Springs.

“The Churchwell suit claimed to seek resolution to ownership issues regarding the water supply,” WCWC said in a press release last week, although the organization “nor the nine individuals named in the suit made any personal claim to the rights or title to the water supply – a fact known to and admitted by the law firm. Yet even with this knowledge,” WCWC said, “the firm appealed the court rulings and dragged the defendants through two more years of legal proceedings.”

WCWC said after participating in town meetings and taking “grassroot actions,” they found themselves in court being sued.

“Several of these people who were sued are the elders of this town – former mayors now in their 80s and 90s, city council and planning commission members – who were trying to look out for their neighbors,” said Lauren Regan, executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and lead attorney on the case. “They saw something wrong and they spoke up in order to protect a vital resource to every community – drinking water. They never claimed any individual rights to this spring water, and the Churchwell firm knew this. Yet they were each named individually and hauled into court simply to try and shut them up. This is the classic definition of a SLAPP suit, using the courts to drown people in litigation and silence public participation. And it’s time law firms were put on notice that they can’t simply hide behind wealthy clients and say ‘That’s what we were hired to do.’ They cannot unleash these unethical, bullying tactics to strip away people’s First Amendment rights without repercussions.”

WCWC president Jim Taylor said that if left unchallenged, such lawsuits indeed work to silence community activists.

“Think of all the people who did not get involved with this fight because they did not want to get sued ... Our organization suddenly had to turn all of our energy, and our limited funds, to fight this lawsuit,” Taylor said. “We couldn’t focus on what actually mattered - protecting the water for our town. That’s the real lasting harm - to our reputations, our bank accounts, our community, and to everyone’s ability to speak up when something is wrong.”