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COMMENTARY: Pinelands Commissioner SLAPP Suit Against Protesters: Shameful Harassment


Guest-opinion copy

The NJ Sierra Club released the following opinion on the lawsuit filed by Pinelands Commissioner Jane Jannarone against people who commented on her Facebook page after she supported pipe line proposal. It reads as follows; 

Pinelands Commissioner Jane Jannarone has filed a lawsuit against 14 people who commented on her business Facebook pages after her vote to support the South Jersey Gas pipeline through the Pinelands. This is clearly a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) lawsuit to censor, intimidate, and silence the public from any opposition.

Commissioner Jane Jannarone claims, in a lawsuit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court on March 20, that the posts intentionally damaged her real estate business and her reputation. The 22-mile pipeline would cross the environmentally sensitive Pinelands, where such development is prohibited without benefiting the people living in the Pinelands, which it does not. Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club released the following statement:


“It is unconscionable that Pinelands Commissioner Jane Jannarone is using an SLAPP suit against the public who didn’t agree with her vote to approve the South Jersey Gas pipeline. Commissioner Jane Jannarone is threatening the public and preventing them from participating in the public process with this lawsuit. In the first amendment, people have a right to speak, whether she likes it or not. Jane Jannarone, is a public figure, former Cumberland County Freeholder, and Pinelands Commissioner and the public has a right to speak truth to power. SLAPP suits are a tactic often used to intimidate environmental and community groups and deter them from opposing their projects. This suit is clearly intended solely to harass the people who came out against the pipeline to protect the Pinelands. Going after citizens for exercising their constitutional rights is something you would expect in Putin’s Russia– not in New Jersey.”


“Instead of protecting the Pinelands, Jannarone is attacking the public for voicing their disapproval on this vote that puts the future of the Pinelands at risk. The Pinelands are an internationally and nationally recognized treasure with plants and animal species found nowhere else in the world. This area is the wilderness of 800,000 acres in the middle of the most densely populated state enjoyed by everyone. The Pinelands Commissioners who voted for the pipeline sold out the Pinelands instead of upholding protections. Her lawsuit clearly goes against the Constitution and people’s 1st amendment rights. It is disgraceful that the people who care about the Pinelands and keeping its environmentally sensitive areas protected are being attacked in this SLAPP suit.”


“This lawsuit shows why Jannarone should have recused herself from the pipeline vote because evidently she was always in favor of the pipeline and didn’t want to hear what the public has to say. While the public has a right to be critical of her vote, if she doesn’t like it, she should resign. Her decision not only violated the Commission’s own rules but flies in the face of two former Executive Directors as well as four former Governors. It is important that thousands of people have stood up against the South Jersey Gas pipeline because it puts at risk 17 trillion gallons of clean drinking water as well as threatens the largest piece of open space on the eastern seaboard. 600 people even showed up at the Commission’s sham public hearing but were deliberately kept out. The reason Jannarone is so angry about the protests is because all along she hasn’t been listening. Her lawsuit is frivolous because in New Jersey there is a history of these SLAPP suits being thrown out. There is even a bill that passed in the Assemblyman called A603 (McKeon) that authorizes denial of SLAPP suits. The people being impacted by this lawsuit should sue back against the Commissioner for harassment.”