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Mark Britton

Calling it a victory for Web transparency and the First Amendment, Seattle-based Avvo today said that a judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a disgruntled Florida lawyer who claimed that the company’s rating amounted to defamation and false advertising.

“We’ve said from the very beginning that we will not be bullied into censoring important information for consumers. People have a right to information about the professionals they are seeking to hire,” said Mark Britton, Founder and CEO of Avvo, in a press release. “We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Not only did we defend our right to free speech, but as one of the first decisions under the Washington anti-SLAPP law, we have demonstrated the need for anti-SLAPP legislation across the country to protect first amendment rights against lawsuits designed to censor them.”

As part of the judge’s ruling, Florida lawyer Larry Joe Davis Jr. must pay Avvo’s legal fees of more than $50,000 and pay a $10,000 fine. Davis filed his suit in August 2010, first claiming libel and later claiming false advertising and misrepresentation.

This marks the second time that Avvo has won a decision in a case involving an attorney who didn’t like his rating. In 2007, just nine days after launch, Seattle attorney John Henry Browne sued Avvo. That case was also dismissed by the United States District Court in Seattle. (Interestingly, Browne is the attorney now representing Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales who is accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians earlier this month).

Avvo, which has transformed itself into a online question-and-answer service in recent months, still operates an active directory and rating service for lawyers and health professionals.

Full judge’s ruling here.

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