July 12, 2012

S-R must provide info on anonymous commenter

7-12-2012 Washington:

The Spokesman-Review must provide information that could identify an anonymous reader who typed a disparaging online comment about the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republican Party in February, an Idaho judge ruled Tuesday.

The attorney for the chairwoman, Tina Jacobson, subpoenaed information about the identities of three Huckleberries Online readers who commented under assumed names below a photograph featuring Jacobson.

Under the name “almostinnocentbystander,” the commenter questioned whether $10,000 reportedly missing from the Kootenai County Central Committee might be “stuffed inside Tina’s blouse.”

Two other commenters, “Phaedrus” and “outofstatetater,” also typed comments responding to the original post about Jacobson’s blouse.

The comments were deleted from Huckleberries Online after S-R blogger Dave Oliveria discovered them, but the first post was visible for about 2 ½ hours.

In late April, Jacobson filed a lawsuit against “John and/or Jane Doe.” Her attorney, C. Matthew Andersen, subpoenaed the names of the commenters so the suit could proceed, and the newspaper responded with a motion to quash that request.

In a hearing last month, Jacobson’s attorney argued that his client’s reputation was hurt by the posts and sought to have the judge order the newspaper to provide identifying information about the people who made the comments.

The newspaper’s attorney, Duane Swinton, argued at the June hearing that the blouse comment “wasn’t nice” but that it was made on a blog site “where people express opinions, sometimes airing outrageous views.”

In his written decision, Judge John Luster pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled since 1942 that the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech. “… while the individuals are entitled to the right of anonymous free speech, this right is clearly limited when abused,” Luster wrote. ..for the remainder of this article: by Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

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