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March 2020
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Bad News: Virginia Legislature Can't Sort Out Anti-SLAPP Law; Expect More SLAPP Suits

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Last month we were happy to report that both houses of the Virginia legislature had passed anti-SLAPP laws (partially in response to Rep. Devin Nunes' use of the state for a bunch of SLAPPy libel-tourism lawsuits. As we noted at the time, the two versions that passed through each part of the legislature were somewhat different, so they needed to be reconciled.Unfortunately, it appears they were unable to reconcile to the two bills. In response to a tweeted question from reporter Rob Pegoaro, Schuyler VanValkenburg, who had introduced the House version of the bill, admitted that they couldn't reconcile the two, and it would need to wait until next year:

This is disappointing on many levels -- especially as we keep seeing so many of these cases being filed in Virginia. Having a good anti-SLAPP bill these days is important, and plenty of damage can be done in the meantime, even if a good bill will be coming next year. This is an unfortunate opportunity lost.

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posted at: 12:00am on 11-Mar-2020
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Michigan State Police Spend The Weekend Getting Ratioed For Bragging About Stealing $40,000 From A Driver

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The Michigan State Police recently informed Twitter users that it's engaged in stealing money from drivers. I don't know what it expected from this announcement, but I'm sure spending a few days being ratioed wasn't what the agency had in mind.Here's the first part of the MSP's "Yes, we steal money" announcement:

If you can't see the tweet, it says:
Trooper from First District Headquarters conducted a traffic stop for following too close on I-75 in Monroe County on March 3rd. Further investigation resulted in locating and seizing approximately $40,000.00 in cash. The driver was a 33 year old male from out of state and was
Here's the kicker, picking up where the first tweet left off:
not arrested. The investigation continues.
So, some alleged criminal, originally only suspected of "following too close" was pulled over, hassled into a search, and relieved of his $40,000 by state troopers. No arrest, but I guess the money was guilty of something.This statement, issued a day after the tweets, doesn't really clarify anything. What it does show is the MSP enaged in catch-and-release drug enforcement, where suspected criminals are free to go, but not any cash they happen to have on them.
Lt. Brian Oleksyk, MSP public information officer, said the traffic stop and seizure were related to a narcotics investigation.“We develop probable cause in order to seize money,” he said.
That's a blanket statement about ideals. That's not a statement specific to this "investigation," which began with a pretextual stop and ended in a windfall for the State Police.But the most instructive thing about this whole experience is the hundreds of replies calling the State Police thieves. It shows people are pretty sick of hearing cops brag about how they took money from people without actually arresting the supposed criminals who were carrying the cash. Agencies engaged in civil asset forfeiture do not have broad support from the public. If they actually believe they do, they're lying to themselves.Cash is still a legal way to pay all debts public and private. It says so right on the money. Traveling with cash does not make someone a criminal and the existence of cash isn't the same thing as actual probable cause. I doubt being ratioed on Twitter will make the MSP rethink its forfeiture programs. But it does make it clear many people see "forfeiture" and "theft" as synonymous.Then there's the question of whether the MSP can actually do this. Last year, a law was passed effectively banning forfeitures under $50,000 without a conviction.
Starting in 90 days, the laws will prohibit assets taken in suspected drug crimes from being forfeited unless the defendant is convicted or the value of the money and property is more than $50,000, excluding the value of contraband.
Prosecutors and cops made highly-questionable arguments against the new law, claiming having to prosecute drug dealers would result in fewer drug dealers being prosecuted. Unless there's a loophole the MSP is planning to use (like the federal option), this set of tweets was the State Police announcing to everyone the agency was planning to break the law. Not a good look.

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posted at: 12:00am on 11-Mar-2020
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