Pro-Life Sidewalk Counselor Will Appeal for Attorney’s Fees

Sep 13, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Liberty Counsel will appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals regarding the lower court’s decision to deny defendant pro-life sidewalk counselor, Larry Cirignano, attorney’s fees in Two Rivers Public Charter School’s lawsuit against him.

The appeals court previously unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered that Two Rivers Public Charter School’s lawsuit against Cirignano be dismissed. However, the school attempted to avoid paying attorney’s fees by claiming “immunity” from the consequences of trying to chill Cirignano’s free speech by arguing that it is the same as “The District” (of Columbia), and therefore falls under an “emergency” amendment that the District passed to exempt itself from the Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. An anti-SLAPP motion is brought to protect the valid exercise of free speech against improper lawsuits. 

However, the charter school is not “The District” and cannot claim immunity to avoid paying fees. 

The lower court agreed that Two Rivers is not immune, and further agreed that Cirignano is presumptively entitled to attorney’s fees, but held that “special circumstances” justify denying the fee award. The decision is contrary to the law and is being appealed. The lower court awarded costs against Two Rivers because the school did not dispute them.

The first “special circumstance” the lower court states is, “Two Rivers brought the case not for its own benefit but for the sake of the young children who attended the school and for whom the school was responsible, including when they were entering or leaving the school grounds.”

Second, “Two Rivers did not seek out any dispute with defendants. Two Rivers and its students were essentially caught in the middle of a dispute between defendants and Planned Parenthood.“

Third, “Two Rivers operates a lower and middle public charter school serving children as young as three years old, and Two Rivers had a reasonable concern that the alleged actions of various defendants, including boisterous protests by angry demonstrators, some of whom displayed graphic images of aborted fetuses, were upsetting and even traumatic for young children.”

Two Rivers sued Cirignano after he peacefully stood on a sidewalk ONE TIME in 2015 near a Planned Parenthood abortion facility situated in between an elementary and middle school in the District of Columbia. It appears that if the charter school is really concerned about its children, school officials and parents would not want to expose them to the violence of abortion right across the street.

The lawsuit by Two Rivers contained one allegation that on November 23, 2015, Cirignano appeared on a public sidewalk holding a sign raising awareness about abortion. The Planned Parenthood building shares an alley with, and is located between, the two buildings of the Two Rivers Public Charter School. The school sued Cirigano even though he never trespassed on school property or otherwise broke any laws.

Two Rivers was put on notice that its lawsuit lacked merit when Liberty Counsel filed its motion to dismiss the case and argued under the District’s Anti-SLAPP law that Two Rivers would be liable to pay attorney’s fees and costs if it did not dismiss the case. Two Rivers chose to litigate its frivolous lawsuit. It cannot now escape liability. 

Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Liberty Counsel will now appeal this decision from the lower court regarding attorney’s fees. Two Rivers Public Charter School cannot avoid the consequences of trying to silence the free speech of pro-life sidewalk counselor, Larry Cirignano.” 

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