New York City-based law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP is attempting to use an anti-mafia law to stifle the free speech of civil society organizations. In July 2018, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Canadian logging giant, Resolute Forest Products, against environmental organizations Greenpeace and Stand.earth.
Resolute and its lawyers at Kasowitz are using a particularly dangerous type of SLAPP. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a powerful and sweeping law that allows civil parties (as well as federal prosecutors) to take action against racketeering activity. Since the law is directed at criminal acts, it is punitive in nature and allows civil parties to recover triple the amount of damages they suffered. RICO therefore provides a uniquely powerful means of criminalizing dissent. It enables corporations to smear these groups as “criminal enterprises,” while claiming exorbitant damages for the “harm” they claim to have suffered.
While the Resolute lawsuit has been dismissed, Kasowitz and Energy Transfer Partners are pursuing a similar RICO lawsuit against Greenpeace. The case is still pending, and Kasowitz lawyers have hinted at plans to bring similar lawsuits in the future.