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Cooper, White & Cooper won the dismissal of a defamation suit brought by Portland, Oregon new age guru Eric Pepin when Oregon federal judge Ancer Haggerty granted a SLAPP motion to strike a complaint filed by by Pepin’s organization, Higher Balance Institute, against an online forum that had published critical comments
 
Web site sott.net, operated by American researchers living in France, initially published pointed criticisms of Pepin’s spiritual discovery techniques.  After forum participants learned that Pepin had been charged, but acquitted, of having sex with a minor, the site’s forum posted opinions that it was beginning to look like Higher Balance Institute was a “front for pedophilia” and that Pepin was a “psychopathic deviant” who was “conning the public” into “falling into confluence with psychopathic reality,”
 
Higher Balance Institute sued for defamation, but Judge Haggerty dismissed the case under Oregon’s SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) statute, which requires plaintiffs complaining of speech on public issues to establish that they have a reasonable probability of success.  The Court ruled that the statements against Pepin and his organization may have been somewhat hyperbolic, but they were opinion and protected as free speech. 
 
SLAPP statutes, which exist in several states, are intended to prevent wealthy individuals and organizations from silencing critics through expensive, but meritless lawsuits.  “This is just how the SLAPP law is supposed to operate,” said Stephen Kaus of San Francisco’s Cooper, White & Cooper LLP, who represented the defendants.  “It prevented this wealthy and relatively powerful man and his company from intimidating our clients from saying what they think.”
 
Pepin, a self-proclaimed psychic and meditation guru was charged in 2006 with sexual abuse related to an alleged encounter with an underage male employee of Higher Balance Institute.  After a trial without a jury in 2007, a Washington County judge acquitted Pepin based on reasonable doubt, although the judge said he believed the acts had probably occurred.
 
After newspaper articles about Pepin’s arrest and trial were posted and commented on in the sott.net forum, Higher Balance sued the defendants in the suit, Laura Knight-Jadczyk and several research and publishing groups she works with, including Signs of the Times (aka sott.net), and the Quantum futures Group.  Ms. Knight-Jadczyk posted the critical comments that were at the center of the litigation. 
 
Before ultimately finding that the statements were Constitutionally protected opinion, and not assertions of fact, Judge Haggerty found that the organizations had immunity under the federal Communications Decency Act, which immunizes “interactive computer service” and “information content” providers from liability for statements made by third-party users.  The judge dismissed plaintiff’s assertion that moderators who posted allegedly defamatory statements were agents of the defendants, stating that the “moderators are unpaid volunteers who do not represent the opinions of defendants.”
 
For the same reason that the court dismissed plaintiff’s defamation claims, it also dismissed Higher Balance’s false light, intentional interference with business relationships, and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claims.
 
The defendants were represented by Cooper attorneys Stephen Kaus, Walter Hansell, Merrit Jones, and Leila Knox.  The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon, Case 3:08-cv-00233.

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