By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  A three-hour public hearing was held today in center city on a Pennsylvania state senator’s plan to limit lawsuits aimed at silencing neighborhood civic groups.

Scholars, lawyers, civic associations, and individuals testified today, many saying most of those filing a lawsuit commonly known as a “SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) never intend to go to trail, but use it as a tactic to tie up community representatives with excessive legal costs, in hopes the community advocates would get out of the filer’s way.

The oft-repeated example is a real estate developer filing a suit against a neighborhood group opposing a project.

State senator Larry Farnese (D-Phila.) wants Bill 1095  to pass, to allow those who are wrongfully sued to have the case more easily dismissed or to be able to recover attorneys’ fees if the legal challenge is won.

“The judicial system can not be used as a sword to chill free speech or to prevent folks from being heard,” Farnese said today.  “What does it say about our society when civic associations and community advocates have to make a decision on whether or not they should increase their insurance coverage or increase their personal insurance coverage in their decision to serve their community?”

Last year, the Old City Civic Association disbanded because it said couldn’t afford liability insurance due to SLAPPs against it.

Watch & Listen LIVE