AAN News

Subpoenas for Info on Blog Commenters On the Rise

"Though handling subpoenas is nothing new for most publishers, this particular subpoena trend raises unique legal issues and should prompt newsrooms to carefully consider the circumstances in which they will fight to protect information," media lawyer Thomas R. Burke writes in a column now available in the Resource Library. As one of a few examples, he cites the case that both Portland alt-weeklies were embroiled in earlier this year, when an individual took the papers to court to gain an anonymous commenter's information. In that case, a judge ruled that the comment was protected under Oregon's Shield Law. The bottom line, Burke writes, is "that reader comments and postings to news websites are fertile sources of information and consequently, exponentially stronger magnets for subpoenas and litigation."
AAN News  |  12-05-2008  12:13 pm  |  Legal News

Woman Suing the Nashville Scene Found Not Guilty of Prostitutionnew

Former stripper Michelle Peacock was exonerated by a jury of all charges on Tuesday, the Nashville Scene reports. Peacock is seeking at least $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from reporter P.J. Tobia, the Scene, and its parent company in a defamation suit over an October 2007 story which cited an arrest report detailing the alleged prostitution.
Nashville Scene  |  11-06-2008  8:50 am  |  Legal News

Metro Pulse Named in $20 Million Libel and Slander Lawsuitnew

This summer, a Knoxville homeowners association published a newsletter raising concerns about a local pain clinic. The story, which Metro Pulse later reported on, quoted police sources who claimed that several armed robberies and drug deals took place in the local grocery store parking lot when patients went there to refill their pain meds, which had been prescribed by the clinic, Bearden Healthcare Associates. On Wednesday, the clinic's doctors filed a $20 million lawsuit against the homeowners association, Metro Pulse and the alt-weekly's parent company, claiming libel, slander, and interference with business practices. "We intend to vigorously defend our position in the case, and we are confident that we will prevail when the facts are established," says a statement released by Metro Pulse.
WBIR-TV  |  10-31-2008  9:08 am  |  Legal News

Defamation Suit Against Cleveland Scene Dismissednew

US District Judge Lesley Wells this week dismissed in its entirety a suit brought against the Scene by Dr. Edward Patrick. Patrick had argued that a 2004 article by Thomas Francis falsely suggested his resume was misleading, his medical credentials were not valid, and that his board certification process was fraudulent. The doctor sought compensation for defamation, invasion of privacy by disclosure of private facts, and false light invasion of privacy, all of which were thrown out by the court.
US District Court, Northern District of Ohio  |  10-23-2008  8:44 am  |  Legal News

Opinion: Nashville Scene is Protected from Former Stripper's Lawsuitnew

Calling Michelle Peacock's defamation suit "a masterpiece of minimalism," the On Point blog from Courthouse News Service notes that the paper has little to worry about. "[Peacock] won't be able to gloss over the common-law privilege which protects reporters from liability when they fairly and accurately report the information in a public document," On Point reports. "In commenting on Peacock's alleged mid-afternoon handjobs, the Nashville Scene didn't say anything that was not in the police reports. So the privilege clearly applies."
On Point News  |  10-14-2008  10:49 am  |  Legal News

Judge Dismisses Parts of Phoenix New Times' Lawsuitnew

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton this week dismissed some, but not all, of a suit filed in April over the arrests of New Times founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin last year. Bolton dismissed the allegations of racketeering and negligence against special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, in addition to dismissing County Attorney Andrew Thomas entirely as a defendant, New Times reports. However, she left claims of gross negligence, malicious prosecution, and false arrest and imprisonment to be handled by Superior Court, unless facts presented in an amended complaint persuade her otherwise (New Times has until Oct. 31 to file such a complaint). Saying that Bolton's ruling "is not a surprise," Lacey writes in a blog post that "her ruling in the current case is consistent with her scant regard for the First Amendment and the rights of a free press."
Phoenix New Times  |  10-09-2008  9:44 am  |  Legal News

Folio Weekly Wins 'Small Victory' in Protracted Battle Over Documentsnew

The Jacksonville, Fla., alt-weekly first requested a document related to the city's NFL team, the Jaguars, in March 2004. The city initially told Folio that it did not possess the document the paper was requesting, a claim it made repeatedly over the next three years in regards to other football-related documents. Only after the paper spent more than $9,000 on an attorney and threatened legal action did the city finally admit it actually did have the requested documents. Turns out Jacksonville had 25 boxes worth of documents related to the football stadium renovations and the city's bid to host the Super Bowl. "Our quest to obtain the records ended with a small victory -- the city provided many documents and repaid $5,000 of our legal fees," writes Folio's Marvin Edwards. "But it also highlighted the city's contempt for public records laws, and its utter lack of accountability."
Folio Weekly  |  10-08-2008  11:04 am  |  Legal News

Phoenix New Times Sues for Video of Inmate Deathnew

New Times filed a complaint in Maricopa County Court on Monday, asking that a judge order Sheriff Joe Arpaio to hand over public records that his office has refused to produce despite public records requests. The paper says the records include video footage of the final moments of an Juan Mendoza Farias' life. Farias, an inmate, died last December after an altercation with 11 jail guards, as the paper reported last month. New Times first filed a request for the video in July, but the paper has been stonewalled. The suit alleges that the withholding "is without merit, speculative, made in bad faith and insufficient as a matter of law to avoid compliance with the Arizona Public Records Law." The sheriff has 20 days to file a legal explanation for not releasing the records.
Phoenix New Times  |  10-08-2008  9:14 am  |  Legal News

Nashville Scene Sued for Defamationnew

The Scene and staff writer P.J. Tobia were hit Wednesday with a defamation suit filed by a former stripper in response to a story published last October, the Nashville City Paper reports. Scene parent company City Press LLC, which is owned by Village Voice Media, was also named in the suit. Michelle Peacock alleges that Tobia's representation of her in the article resulted in injury to her character and reputation, and she's seeking at least $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. In the story, Tobia cited a police report that stated Peacock twice "offered to manually stimulate (an undercover cop) until ejaculation for $100 U.S. Dollars." According to the suit, Peacock "continues to suffer a diminution in her earnings and earning capacity" since the strip club refused to allow her to continue working there after the Scene story was published.
Nashville City Paper  |  10-03-2008  11:02 am  |  Legal News

Portland's Rival Alt-Weeklies Team Up in Court and Win Shield Casenew

On Feb. 1, someone named "Ronald" posted a comment about a local businessman named Terry Beard on both the Portland Mercury and Willamette Week websites. Ronald's message "was Greek to me," the Mercury's Amy Ruiz writes, "but Terry Beard sure didn't appreciate it." He took both papers to court to get them to reveal the anonymous commenter's IP address. The papers' attorneys fought the motion, arguing that Oregon's Media Shield Law protects the information. The plaintiff's lawyer countered by contending that the shield law only applies to news gathering, not the passive reception of information. On Monday, Judge James E. Redman sided with the papers, and agreed that the IP address was protected under the state shield law. However, he noted that "if the comment had been totally unrelated to the blog post," then the shield law might not have applied.
The Portland Mercury  |  10-02-2008  9:17 am  |  Legal News

Trespass Charges Against Journalist are Dropped in Hawaiinew

Joan Conrow, who was writing a story for the Honolulu Weekly about an oceanfront home being built atop a Hawaiian burial ground, was initially charged with trespassing when she covered a protest at the construction site. But when she went to the police station to be arrested Wednesday night, Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry told her to go home -- and then had prosecutors rescind the charges, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Perry says that after looking at the arrest warrant, he decided that the arrest raised First Amendment issues. "She was covered by the First Amendment," Perry says. Her presence "didn't sit within the criteria of criminal trespass."
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin  |  09-22-2008  8:07 am  |  Legal News

Artvoice Sues for Public Records and Winsnew

The Buffalo alt-weekly had for months been trying to obtain meeting minutes and budget documents from a board charged with negotiating a merger between two area hospital operators. But the board claimed to be exempt from New York State's laws regarding open meetings and freedom of information and wouldn't turn over documents, so associate editor Buck Quigley joined a lawsuit to force the board to release them. On Friday, Judge Patrick NeMoyer ruled in favor of Quigley and the other plaintiffs on every count. Artvoice editor Geoff Kelly writes that, in addition to shining light on the board's activities, the ruling is "also a precedent: The next time a public/private authority claims to be exempt from New York State laws regarding openness, we have a court case to wave under their noses."
Artvoice  |  09-16-2008  8:59 am  |  Legal News

Senate Republicans Block Debate on Shield Lawnew

Some Republican senators are refusing to begin debate on the latest version of a federal shield law until the Senate addresses a bill that would promote more domestic oil and gas production, the Washington Post reports. The most recent iteration of the bill was introduced on Tuesday by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). A similar bill was passed last October by the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Washington Post  |  07-31-2008  9:24 am  |  Legal News

Shield Law Faces Hurdles in Congressnew

Senate Majority Leader Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has included the Free Flow of Information Act on a list of legislation he hopes to complete before the August recess, Politico reports. The bill passed the House and Senate Judiciary Committee late last year. But with the Bush administration's opposition to the federal shield law, the bill still faces an uphill climb, as many federal agencies have fallen in line and written letters opposing the legislation. According to Politico, a major point of contention in the Senate regarding the Shield Law is how it defines "journalist" -- some senators are concerned that the definition remains too broad.
Politico  |  07-24-2008  9:09 am  |  Legal News