A judge has denied a request from a group of Waldo County residents to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them in which they are accused of spreading brothel-related rumours about two Belfast women.

The attorney representing the eight defendants asked the judge this summer to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging it infringed on their first amendment rights to petition the government. Justice Robert Murray issued an order denying the motion to dismiss on Monday. The order was the first issued by the judge in the case.

There are currently two other pending motions in the case awaiting a ruling from Murray, including a motion for summary judgement and a scheduling order change, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, David Walker.

R.M. Woodford and April Walker ― who are mother and daughter ―   filed the lawsuit in May, accusing the eight defendants ― including two Belfast city councilors ― of spreading false statements on Facebook that they run a brothel and host sex parties.

The defendants outright deny ever making the statements and allege that the women have fabricated the Facebook comments used as evidence in the lawsuit.

In their lawsuit, April Walker and Woodford accuse the defendants of spreading the rumors after the women expressed their opposition to a proposal for a former school to be converted into rental properties more than two years ago.

While the defendants deny ever making disparaging remarks about the women, they do admit to making public statements on Facebook about the Pierce School, according to court documents.

The group’s attorney, Christopher MacLean, has said the lawsuit is an attempt to deter his clients from participating in public discourse in the future. MacLean argued the lawsuit should therefore be dismissed because it violates Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute, which was enacted to give the courts a way to quickly dismiss meritless or frivolous lawsuits that seek to silence or harass those who speak out on issues of public interest. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”

However, Murray denied MacLean’s motion to dismiss, stating that the statements Woodford and April Walker allege the eight defendants made “cannot be considered activity that would qualify as an exercise of the defendants First Amendment right to petition the government,” according to his order.

Murray said the affidavits submitted by the defendants in which they deny that they made the alleged statements cannot be the basis for the dismissal “at this early state of the proceedings.”

As of Thursday afternoon, MacLean said he had not yet seen the order.

Editor’s note: Despite having the same last name, David Walker is not related to his client April Walker.