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Longtime political activist Dorothy Brizill says she was panic-stricken during her first oral argument before the D.C. Court of Appeals opposing a slot-machine casino ballot initiative, but she remained cool during questioning from the three-judge panel on Sept. 21. “You can’t fumble,” she said after the hearing. “I knew my material.” Brizill, who is not an attorney, is the executive director of D.C. Watch. She and two other plaintiffs representing Southeast D.C. neighborhood groups have challenged the legality of a proposed D.C. ballot initiative that would require the licensing of a slot-machine casino in Historic Anacostia. The plaintiffs couldn’t find a pro bono attorney, so Brizill argued the case herself. Atlantic Northstar, a Virgin Islands company controlled by gambling financiers Shawn Scott and John Baldwin, has spent more than $370,000 financing the ballot initiative, even though a similar effort in 2004 ended with a record-setting $622,880 fine from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics against the local initiative committee for more than 3,800 petition-signature violations. In a related matter, the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area has agreed to represent Brizill in a defamation suit filed against her in Guam by Baldwin, who is pushing a similar ballot initiative there to open a slot-machine casino at his Guam greyhound track. The suit claims Brizill made defamatory statements on a Guam radio program about Baldwin’s character. The ACLU has countered that the suit violates Guam statutes prohibiting strategic lawsuits against public participation, known as SLAPP suits. “I am very, very pleased and very, very happy,” Brizill says of the ACLU representation. “I was engaging in political discourse, and these people were trying to silence me.”
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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