Judge dismisses teacher's libel suit against student newspaper

NEVADA -- A state court judge on Tuesday dismissed a libel suit filed against the Churchill County High School student newspaper editor and district officials.

District Judge William Rogers threw the case out under Nevada's "anti-SLAPP" statute, which protects people from suits designed to stifle discussion of public issues.

Kathleen Archey, a music teacher at CCHS, sued over a news story in the school's student newspaper, The Flash. The paper reported on allegations by parents that Archey did not forward some of her students' audition tapes to a state choir competition, according to court records.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said this is the first known case where an anti-SLAPP law has been applied to a student newspaper.

"It's a logical use of the statute and it's encouraging to know that's available as a tool," he said.

Laws like Nevada's are designed to preserve the right to petition the government, and were enacted to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPP suits are filed to harass those who exercise their petition and speech rights, LoMonte said.

The law allows for speedy dismissal of SLAPP suits that are based on "good faith communications" made in connection with petitioning the government.

"Because the article is truthful, because it communicated the complaints of parents to CCSD employees, and because these complaints regarded a matter reasonably of concern to the CCSD, the article fits squarely within the protection of [the anti-SLAPP statute]," Rogers wrote in the opinion.

Rogers also held that public school teachers are public officials who must meet a high standard to win libel suits.

Rebecca Bruch, who represents the district, said she's pleased with the decision.

"We think the judge looked at the law, and Kathy Archey had a burden to meet and she didn't meet that burden, and [he] dismissed the case appropriately," she said.

Archey also sued the Lahontan Valley News, a local newspaper that covered the controversy. Don Lattin, the paper's attorney, said this is the first time any media outlet has been covered under the Nevada anti-SLAPP statute.

Twenty-six states have anti-SLAPP laws, according to the First Amendment Center.

Archey's attorney, Ken McKenna, did not respond to multiple phone messages by press time.

Churchill County High School, Nevada, news, The Flash