FREE SPEECH -- The San Francisco law firm of Cooper, White & Cooper reports that it recently won the dismissal of a defamation suit brought by Portland new age guru Eric Pepin when federal judge Ancer Haggerty granted a SLAPP motion to strike a complaint filed by by Pepin's organization, Higher Balance Institute, against an online forum that had published critical comments.

Web site sott.net, operated by American researchers living in France, initially published pointed criticisms of Pepin's spiritual discovery techniques.  After forum participants learned that Pepin had been charged, but acquitted, of having sex with a minor, the site's forum posted opinions that it was beginning to look like Higher Balance Institute was a "front for pedophilia" and that Pepin was a "psychopathic deviant" who was "conning the public" into "falling into confluence with psychopathic reality,"
 
Higher Balance Institute sued for defamation, but Judge Haggerty dismissed the case under Oregon's SLAPP ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation") statute, which requires plaintiffs complaining of speech on public issues to establish that they have a reasonable probability of success.  The Court ruled that the statements against Pepin and his organization may have been somewhat hyperbolic, but they were opinion and protected as free speech.

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