Monday, July 6, 2009

Does Ky. Shield Law Cover More than Plaintiff's Dress?.

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The Richmond (Ky.) Register is relying on the Commonwealth's Shield Law and the First Amendment to support its refusal to divulge the identity of an anoymous poster on a forum linked to the newspaper who allegedly defamed a college student involved in a dust-up with mall security, according to The (Louisville) Journal-Courier.

Kymberly Clem, a student at Eastern Kentucky Univ., was booted from the Richmond Mall on Aug. 9, 2008, purportedly because the dress she was wearing--and had purchased the previous day at that mall--was too short. The story garnered national attention and a posting from a blogger identified as "12bme" that appeared on Aug. 13, 2008, following a Register story about the incident alleged that Ms. Clem was escorted from the Mall because she exposed herself to a woman accompanied by her children who supposedly commented on the dress length.

Clem sued 12bme for defamation in Madison Circuit Court and subpoenaed The Register to obtain the poster's identity. Predictably, the newspaper argues a First Amendment right for itself and 12bme to speak freely in the public forum of an online site. However, the Register also contends that Kentucky's Shield Law, adopted in 1936, prohibits the Court in the Clem case from requiring the Register to disclose the identity of 12bme, whom the Register claims is a confidential source because a Register reporter wrote a story about the Clem matter that cited the posting.

Clem's attorney counters that the posting is false and unprotected by the 1st Amendment, particularly because it accuses Clem of criminal conduct, that is, indecent exposure. Although the Register is contesting the subpoena, it not only removed the posting at issue, but banned 12bme from making future comments in the forum.

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