Submitted by Jim Taylor
President of WCWC
Last week Water for the Citizens of Weed Ca (WCWC ) and eight Weed Community Members filed a lawsuit against Churchill White LLP, a well-known Sacramento law firm which represented Roseburg Forest Products. I would like to explain why.
The first meeting off concerned Citizens in Weed, after hearing rumors that the City might be losing our 2.0 cfs of water from Beaughan Springs was held 3/10/2016. More than a dozen people were in attendance. Weekly meetings began soon after. On 8/4/2016 Water for the Citizens of Weed Ca. was formed.
The campaign to save our City’s most important source of drinking water from RFP received a lot of attention and interest, both within our community and beyond. Our struggle was even featured in the New York Times. But as our organization became more well known in the community, some of our members started to worry about the threat of retaliation from RFP.
Then on 5/12/2017 a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation), a frivolous bullying lawsuit meant to intimidate and stop us from speaking out was filed by RFP’s lawyers against WCWC and nine of our most visible members. We soon became know as the ”Weed Nine.” The delivery of the 300 page lawsuit was terrifying to all of us. We had no real knowledge of the effect of a SLAPP suit. We worried about the possibility of losing everything including our homes.
By suing “John Does” in it’s lawsuit, RFP threatened to sue anyone else in Weed it could find who were supporters of our Campaign. That caused a drop off in local support for WCWC.
Business leaders and individuals who had supported our efforts did not not want to do so publicly in fear of retaliation from RBFP. Volunteerism also waned at this time as people realized they could be sued as well. This was understandable. We had to scramble to find a lawyer who was willing to help. We each had to pay a $435.00 filing fee to the court to answer the SLAPP complaint. We later found out that RFP wanted us to pay them $178,000 in legal fees if we were to lose in court.
Our group stayed the course through the lawsuit and stood firm against the legal threats. In December 2017 the Court ruled in our favor and dismissed the SLAPP suit against us. Then RFP filed an appeal and kept us in the Court system for two more long years. Finally they abandoned their appeal and had to pay all our Court cost and legal fees.
However, the stress and worry we have suffered these last four years has taken it’s toll on our group and us as individuals. WCWC had to use it’s precious resources donated by community members for fighting the lawsuit instead of working to protect our water.
We have since learned that SLAPP suits are illegal in California and a big waste of limited Judicial resources as well. Our SLAPP- back lawsuit is meant to make RFP’s lawyers accountable for their abuse of the court system. Without Churchill White lawyers, RFP would not have attempted to crush our community engagement for the past three years.
This lawsuit won’t repair all the damage that has been done to our community. But we hope it may encourage citizens to not be afraid to stand up for their rights and return dollars to our community to continue the fight for our clean Spring fed drinking water.