Judge in defamation case rules blogger is no journalist
Reuters US Online Report Domestic News
Dec 08, 2011 17:24 EST
(Reuters) – A federal judge has ruled that a Montana blogger was not acting as a journalist when she posted inflammatory statements about an Oregon attorney and that she is not protected from a $2.5 million defamation judgment.
The ruling last week by U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez is seen by outside observers as potentially having chilling effects on other bloggers.
The case stems from a lawsuit filed on January 14 against Eureka, Montana-based blogger Crystal Cox that accused her of defaming Oregon attorney Kevin Padrick with writings on her website that called him “very corrupt” and falsely suggested he may have hired a hitman to kill her, court papers state.
Padrick was working as a trustee in the bankruptcy case of an Oregon-based real estate firm, Summit Accommodators Inc.
After Summit unraveled, executives with the firm were charged with wire fraud and money laundering over an alleged scheme that saw customers lose millions, according to the FBI.
Cox, 41, who represented herself in the defamation trial, said in court papers that she began blogging about the Summit bankruptcy in 2009 as an investigative journalist.
She presented arguments seeking legal protections often given to the media on the grounds that, in her view, Padrick and his company Obsidian Finance Group were public figures.
But Judge Hernandez disagreed.
“Based on the evidence presented at the time of trial, I conclude that plaintiffs are not public figures, defendant is not ‘media’ and the statements at issue were not made on an issue of public concern,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “Thus, there are not First Amendment implications.”
Attorneys for Padrick presented as evidence a January 19 email from Cox, sent days after she was sued for defamation by Padrick and Obsidian, in which she offered the firm her services “to protect online reputations and promote businesses” for $2,500 a month. Cox denied she was trying to extort money.
NO MEDIA CREDENTIALS?
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