PLAINVILLE - Plainridge Racecourse has been forced to pay almost $25,000 in legal costs to the attorneys who represented a Plainville man opposed to slot machine gambling at the racetrack.
Plainridge, doing business as Ourway Realty, had filed a defamation suit against Thomas Keen of Plainville, claiming his website made false and harmful accusations against the track.
Keen has a website and Facebook page opposing gambling. He also posted a home-security photo of a burglar on his site. When a reader posted a comment saying police should look at the track for the criminal, Plainridge sued.
A judge tossed the suit out of court after Keen's attorney argued that the legal action was an attempt to intimidate Keen into not exercising his freedom of speech.
Plainridge dropped its appeal of the judge's decision.
"We did decide to drop this case," Plainridge spokesman Bill Ryan said. "We have more important matters to focus on at this point."
Attleboro Jeffrey Pyle of the firm Prince Lobel said Plainridge was warned by the American Civil Liberties Union that its suit would result in the track paying Keen's legal expenses.
"They chose to ignore the warning," he said.
Pyle said Plainridge was engaging in what is called a SLAPP suit - or, strategic lawsuit against public participation.
SLAPP suits are sometimes used by developers to prevent citizens from opposing their projects by threatening them with huge legal fees.
When Plainridge sued Keen, he contacted the ACLU, which asked Pyle to take the case.
The judge ruled that Pyle should be paid $340 an hour for his work, and ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch should get $450.
Ryan noted that no damages were assessed against Plainridge.