Clinic Settles Appeal of Citizen Journalist’s Anti-SLAPP Win and Attorneys’ Fees Award in Geneva
Last month, Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Greenberg Traurig LLP finalized a settlement agreement which allows citizen journalist James Meaney of Geneva, New York, to stand by his investigative reporting on local construction company Massa Construction, Inc. This agreement resolves a lawsuit Massa brought against Meaney and his watchdog blog The Geneva Believer nearly three years ago.
The suit centered around a series of articles in which Meaney examined — and at times criticized — the City of Geneva’s public works bidding and record keeping procedures generally, and the relationship between Massa and the City specifically.
Massa appealed two 2021 Ontario County Supreme Court decisions which dismissed Massa’s suit and awarded attorneys’ fees to Meaney’s legal team to the New York State Appellate Division, Fourth Department. The matter settled after briefing was complete on the appeals, but prior to oral argument before the Fourth Department.
Neither Meaney nor The Geneva Believer made any payment to Massa as part of the settlement. Meaney and his legal team maintain that —as Supreme Court, Ontario County, found — Meaney’s coverage of Massa contained no false statements of fact, alleged or implied. Remaining details of the agreement are confidential.
“Citizen journalists like Jim Meaney are exactly who anti-SLAPP laws are intended to protect,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the Cornell First Amendment Clinic. “We are relieved that, through this settlement agreement, Jim can stand by his reporting and put this matter behind him.”
“I am deeply thankful that this case has reached a resolution,” said Meaney. “If it weren’t for the countless hours of tireless, pro bono work by the Clinic's exceptional team of students and attorneys, and by Greenberg Traurig, my case would have had a very different outcome. Citizen journalists like me who lack the resources to mount a free speech legal defense against deep-pocketed entities are extremely fortunate to have the Cornell First Amendment Clinic ready to help.”
Meaney was represented by Michael Grygiel of Greenberg Traurig LLP, along with the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic’s Stanton Fellow Christina Neitzey, Clinic Director Mark H. Jackson, former Clinic Associate Director Jared Carter, former Clinic Associate Director Cortelyou Kenney, and former teaching fellow Tyler Valeska. Former First Amendment Clinic students Corby Burger, Michael Mapp, Rob Ward, Kasper Dworzanczyk, and James Pezzullo also contributed.