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Blogger Fined $60K For Telling the Truth 433

jfruhlinger writes "'Johnny Northside,' a Minneapolis blogger with less than 500 readers a day, revealed that a University of Minnesota researcher studying mortgage fraud had been involved in a fraudulent mortgage himself; the blog post was at least partially responsible for the researcher losing his job. The researcher then sued the blogger and won — despite the blogger having his facts straight. Johnny Northside plans to appeal the verdict."
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Blogger Fined $60K For Telling the Truth

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  • Re:truth (Score:5, Informative)

    by Elder Entropist ( 788485 ) on Monday March 14, 2011 @07:50PM (#35486040)
    It's not a libel case, it's a "tortious interference" case. []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 14, 2011 @07:58PM (#35486130)

    On a somewhat related note, the British government is apparently issuing "super injunctions" [].

    FFS. It's not the government, it's the judiciary. There is a difference, you know.

  • Re:Libel (Score:5, Informative)

    by shadowfaxcrx ( 1736978 ) on Monday March 14, 2011 @08:08PM (#35486228)

    The guy worked for the University of Minnesota - a public school funded in part by tax payers. It is therefore absolutely a public case.

    Who can call themselves journalists is irrelevant. The 1st amendment does not say "freedom of speech only if you are a journalist."

    And whether it is a public or private case is and should be immaterial. If Northside told the truth, then he should be absolutely protected from retribution. Legal trickery should not trump the 1st amendment.

    I assure you that if I were a blogger, and I found out that someone who I was for whatever reason covering was up to his ears in criminal activity, I would rightfully expect to be able to tell people about it without being held liable for it.

    Put another way, what this case really says is "don't say anything negative about anyone, ever, whether it's true or not, because if they have to face any consequences for what they did, it will be your fault." That's a(nother) direct attack on the first amendment.

  • Invasion of Privacy (Score:5, Informative)

    by TechForensics ( 944258 ) on Monday March 14, 2011 @08:10PM (#35486246) Homepage Journal

    As a lawyer I can also tell you the case may turn on invasion of privacy principles. The long-recognized tort of invasion of privacy gives a right of action for:

    1. False Light -- you can't paint someone in a false light, ie photos with text suggesting that a virtuous person is promiscuous
    2. Appropriation -- you can't take someone's image for advertising purposes (though photos taken in public are not invasion)
    3. Invasion -- you can't burrow into someone's home life and expose embarrassing intimate detail
    4. Disclosure --- you can't disclose even true facts about someone if there ensue unfair disruptive consequences, or if disclosure is done for malicious ends. "Unfair" is up to a jury.

    It is (4) that is in play here.

    These principles have lived long in the law. One imagines they became recognized as causes of action and continue to be because there is some justice in them, even if they may be occasionally misapplied.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Monday March 14, 2011 @09:28PM (#35486858)

    Because the truth used to be a defense against libel. However, with the swing to the far right (not a party swing, but the whole country, including both parties are swinging that way for some topics), freedom of speech is being trampled. There are already states where true statements about some protected industry is illegal if the statement is negative. Now you can't say anything to get someone fired, even if true.

    What's interesting here is the suit is not a libel suit. The suit was prosecuted on the basis of he wrote that maliciously for the purpose of getting the plaintiff fired; so libel or defamation is not a claim made in the suit.

    The plaintiff could not sue for defamation or libel, if he tried, he would have failed, due to the truth of the information. The article mentioned

    Jane Kirtley, a U of M professor of media law and ethics, called the lawsuit an example of "trash torts," in which someone unable to sue for libel, which by definition involves falsity, reaches for another legal claim. She predicted the verdict will be overturned.

    The verdict also surprised U of M law professor William McGeveran, but he wasn't so certain that it will be easily overturned. Appeals courts tend to give a lot of credence to jury verdicts, he said.

  • by Unequivocal ( 155957 ) on Monday March 14, 2011 @10:33PM (#35487290)

    Hang on - juries don't just decide facts. They are *instructed in the law* by the judge, and are told to follow it. In their deliberations, they are legally obliged to follow this law and decide the facts. (Aside: It's quite illegal in jurisdictions I'm familiar with for a juror in the jury room to say and then follow through by voting on a statement like "I don't care what the law says, I'm not convicting this guy even if he is guilty" while it is perfectly legal for the same juror to keep his trap shut and just vote "not guilty.")

    In this case the claim against the blogger was tortious interference, which roughly means proving not only are the facts as you presented them, but proving the blogger had intent to interfere with a contract between the plaintiff and a third party (in this case an employment agreement with a university). From the limited info in the article, the plaintiff may have gotten over that hurdle, at least partially, by showing that the blogger himself subsequent to the original blog took *partial* credit on a second blog article for getting the guy fired. This could help show intent to interfere with the employment contact. So, while it might be unambiguous free speech to publish or point out public information with no intent to cause harm, if the blogger is shown to have done so because he intended to screw up a legal contract, that may be a different issue.

    Regardless of the above legal issues, in my opinion, first amendment protections in a case like this should override a tortious interference claim, but apparently this (I'm sure legally astute) jury of *seven* went the other way. The perils of a jury trial -- I wonder why the defendant didn't ask for a bench trial in this case..

    If you want to see a classic example of tortious interference, watch the movie The Insider by Michael Mann. It shows (at least cinematically) how tortious interference claims can be used to stifle first amendment rights even against "big media" companies who have real lawyers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 14, 2011 @11:31PM (#35487626)

    Unfortunately, TOR exit nodes are toxic. I ran a fully open tor exit node for 24 hours and got 4 C&D's for my trouble. You need a full time lawyer, or a lot of time spent tuning which traffic you relay. :-/

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming