5 Olympia Food Co-op members who sued to end Israeli boycott must pay $160K
Five Olympia Food Co-op members who had sued to overturn the store’s boycott of Israeli goods must pay $160,000 in damages, the result of a judge’s prior ruling that the lawsuit was an illegal Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.
SLAPPs are defined as nuisance lawsuits designed to stifle free speech and create onerous legal costs for those who choose to exercise their free-speech rights. SLAPPs are illegal under a state law that the defendants’ attorney, Bruce Johnson, and another staff attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine helped draft.
The 16 defendants are entitled to $10,000 each under Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, Thurston County Superior Court Judge Thomas McPhee ruled Thursday.
The defendants are former board members who voted to enact the boycott in July 2010 and current members who joined the board after the boycott was enacted.
The five people who’d sued had argued that the co-op’s board acted outside its authority and didn’t follow its own rules when it enacted the boycott. In February, McPhee rejected that argument and ruled that the lawsuit was a SLAPP.
Olympia Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement member Andrew Meyer said Thursday that McPhee’s award recognizes that the co-op acted within its rights to continue the boycott until Israel secures “equal, civil and human rights for Palestinians.”
Attorney Bob Sulkin, who represented the 5 plaintiffs, declined to comment outside court. It’s unknown whether he will appeal.
McPhee ruled that the defendants also are entitled to attorneys' fees but did not decide on a dollar amount. Johnson said outside court that he has asked for $280,000 in attorneys' fees. McPhee told Johnson during Thursday’s hearing that he wants to see a detailed itemized account of each attorney’s work on the case within two weeks.
Sulkin called Johnson’s request for $280,000 in attorney’s fees “outrageous.”
He argued Thursday that the co-op itself was responsible for paying for damages under the SLAPP statue. That’s because those who sued are in essence “shareholders” in the “corporation” known as the co-op, he said.
“We are nominal parties, nominal,” Sulkin said in court. “The corporation is the real party and interest here.”
McPhee said, “I don’t find that argument persuasive.”
The co-op board voted in July 2010 to boycott Israeli products; it was not a unanimous decision. Products that were removed from the co-op’s two stores, one on Olympia’s east side and the other on the west side, include gluten-free crackers, ice cream cones and a moisturizing cream.