Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ill. Appeals Court Slam Dunks Ex-Hoops Coach's Libel Suit

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The Appellate Court of Illinois Second District this week in Sandholm v. Kuecker et al. (Case No. 08-L-19) affirmed the trial court's dismissal of a defamation and false light suit by a former high school basketball coach against a group of parents critical of his coaching style.

In a 49-page opinion, the appellate court upheld the lower court's rejection of the plaintiff's constitutional challenge of the state's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) measure, the Illinois Citizen Participation Act ("ICPA") [735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 110], which the trial judge cited in throwing out the suit on the basis that it chilled free speech.  Writing for the court, Justice John J. Bowman said the ICPA "provides a qualified privilege, granting more protection for speech than the common law provides, when the speech occurs in the exercise of the right to participate in government."

Sandholm coached the Dixon High School boys basketball team until the school board unanimously voted not to renew his contract in April 2008, in response to criticisms concerning his coaching style, which purportedly involved verbally abusing, discouraging and bullying team members.
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Canada High Court Fails to Create Shield Law; Gives Nod to Reporter's Privilege

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In Globe and Mail v. Attorney General of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada this week fell short of creating a shield law for journalists, but conceded "some form of legal protection for the confidential relationship between journalists and their anonymous sources is required."

According to an account in The Globe and Mail, the High Court recognized a reporter's right to conceal the identity of a source if protection of the confidential source advances the public interest.  A Quebec Superior Court Judge two years ago ordered Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc to divulge the identity of  his anonymous source, dubbed MaChouette, to Le Groupe Polygone Editeurs, Inc., a Montreal media firm embroiled in a $35 million federal lawsuit seeking recovery of monies paid by a former Liberal government.

The Supreme Court of Canada upheld that reporter's privilege matters be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and declined to accord a constitutional shield to journalists to protect confidential sources. Nevertheless, the High Court did frown on subpoenaing reporters to gather information that may be available elsewhere, and suggested disclosure of confidential sources should be confined to situations in which the source's identity is vital to the administration of justice.
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'You Get A Lawsuit...Everyone Gets A Lawsuit...'

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In Charles Harris & Unique Products and Services v. Oprah Winfrey et al. (Case No. 2:2010cv05655), filed this week in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the author of a booklet entitled How America Elects Her Presidents has sued the talk show queen for copyright infringement, conversion, quantum meruit, and unjust enrichment.

In a 21-page complaint, Harris alleges that he sent 10 copies of his booklet to Winfrey in 2008 seeking publicity, but received no response.  According to the complaint, Harris claims Winfrey read questions verbatim from the booklet on her February 16, 2009, program without crediting the plaintiff, which he contends constitutes plagiarism and copyright infringement [17 U.S.C. sec. 101 et seq.].

Winfrey has yet to respond to the allegations of the plaintiff, who is seeking maximum statutory damages. As Texas Cattlemen can attest, Winfrey is not averse to mixing it up in a courtroom.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

DOR Request for Amazon Sales Data Violates First Amendment

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The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington this week ruled in v. Lay (Case No. C10-664-MJP) that efforts by former North Carolina Dept. of Revenue Secretary Ken Lay to obtain information from Amazon, Inc. regarding sales to North Carolina residents for tax purposes violated the First Amendment.

As first reported by The Volokh Conspiracy blog, Judge Marsha J. Pechman cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995) for the principle that anonymity "exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular."  The Court held that the government had no right to know what music, books and audiovisual materials North Carolinians were purchasing through

In her 26-page opinion granting Amazon's request for summary judgment and denying DOR's motion to dismiss, Judge Pechman wrote: "[T]o the extent the March Information Request demands that Amazon disclose its customers' names, addresses or any other personal information, it violates the First Amendment and 18 U.S.C. sec. 2710 only as long as the DOR continues to have access to or possession of detailed purchase records obtained from Amazon."

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Burnt LimeWire Shut Down by Court for Copyright Infringement

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Ruling that the defendant commercial P2P music downloading service "intentionally encouraged direct [copyright] infringement," U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Kimba Wood has ordered LimeWire to cease distribution of its file-sharing software.

Although its owner claims the entity is still in business, LimeWire shut its Web site Wednesday, posting the following message:  "This is an official notice that LimeWire is under a court-ordered injunction to stop distributing and supporting its file-sharing software. Downloading or sharing copyrighted content without authorization is illegal."

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sued LimeWire in 2006 on behalf of a dozen plaintiffs, including Sony Music Entertainment, Capitol Records and Arista Records, alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition and inducing others to commit copyright infringement (Arista Records LLC et al. v. Lime Group, LLC, Case No. 1:06-cv-05936 ) [see "TUOL" post 5/13/10].

Judge Wood found that LimeWire affirmatively marketed itself to Napster users, whom she characterized as "known copyright infringers." Although the freeze on distributing its software essentially squeezes LimeWire, networks such as Bit Torrent and Gnutella are still up and running.

A trial is slated for January 2011, to determine the damages sustained by the RIAA.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Iowa High Court to Decide Breadth of State's Open Records Law

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Iowa's Open Records Law [Iowa Code Chapter 22] has butted heads with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and it's up to the Hawkeye State's Supreme Court to decide whether FERPA is subordinate.

According to a story in the Des Moines Register, the Iowa Supreme Court last week heard arguments arising from a November 2007, request for records by the Iowa City Press-Citizen to the University of Iowa involving an alleged sexual assault in a university residence hall by two of the college's football players.  The Press-Citizen sued the university in 2008 under Chapter 22 after multiple requests to the school yielded only 18 nonresponsive documents.

Iowa District Court Judge Douglas Russell compelled the university to produce a log of withheld documents, which showed 3,200 documents that the school would not produce because of state and federal privacy statutes and attorney-client privilege.  Following the release of 900 documents from the list, Judge Russell ordered the school to produce more than 1,100 documents from the list, but the University of Iowa has balked at producing even redacted versions of the documents, relying on FERPA.

The university fears it could lose federal funding if it releases student records, but the newspaper argues that Iowa U. would be protected if the records were produced pursuant to court order.  The Iowa Supreme Court offered to indication when a decision could be expected, according to the Register story.

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Amid Seawalls, Cape Cod Daily Adds a Paywall

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Beginning November 9, The Cape Cod Times will begin charging visitors to its online edition, owner Cape Cod Media Group, Inc. has announced.

Until their subscription renewal date arrives, current subscribers to the print edition of the Times will have free access to all online content. Beyond public safety information and destination content, which will remain free, online visitors who read more than 10 stories monthly will be charged a fee, beginning at $2.48 a week and rising to $5.52 a week for premium Internet subscribers who will have full access to galleries, videos and articles.

Presently, attracts nearly 9 million page views monthly, according to the Times.

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Gorilla Coffee Takes on 800 lb. Gorilla New York Times

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There's trouble brewing in The New York Supreme Court in Kings County, where Darleen Scherer and Carol McLaughlin, co-owners of Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, Brooklyn, have filed a defamation suit against The New York Times, blogger Oliver Strand and several former employees over a blog item on April 11, 2010.

According to the 7-page complaint, during a labor dispute in which several baristas walked out of Gorilla Coffee, risking their urnings ("TUOL" apologizes for its pun addiction), Strand, a contributor to the Times' Dining section, blogged that store employees were subjected to a hostile and demeaning work environment. Subsequently, the staffers quit and the coffee oasis closed for two weeks as the owners hired new baristas. The Times wrote blog entries and a Metro feature on the store's re-opening.

The plaintiffs allege the Times' post and printing of an Email from the disgruntled employees alleging an unhealthy work environment defamed them. The plaintiffs claim they are not public figures, which, if the court agrees, would require them only to prove that the defendants were negligent in publishing the alleged libelous statement, rather than the higher burden of proving that the defendants published the alleged defamatory statements with actual malice (knowledge that the statements were false or reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the statements).

It remains to be seen whether the defamation claims are as strong as the coffee and whether the defendants have grounds for dismissing the suit (pun addictions are difficult to overcome).

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Monday, October 25, 2010

ABC 'Good News' for Newspapers: You Circulation Losses Are Slowing Down

The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, Texas Histori...Image by fables98 via FlickrLooking for a kind word where it can find it, the newspaper industry has glommed onto the latest circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) for the six-month period from April 2010, to September 2010, which show a 5 percent decline compared to the same period in 2009. The industry can take solace in the fact that last year, the drop-off in newspaper circulation was more than twice that rate.
From April to September this year, The Dallas Morning News and The Wall St. Journal were the only two major dailies that experienced a circulation boost.  The Wall St. Journal's circulation grew by 2 percent and reported the largest circulation overall of more than 2 million, which includes 450,000 electronic subscriptions. USA Today was second largest at 1.8 million, a 4 percent decrease compared to 2009 figures, followed by The New York Times, which sustained a 6 percent decline in circulation to 877,000.
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Friday, October 22, 2010

Pocono Record Defeats Real Estate Developer's Libel Claim

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The Dow Jones Local Media Group, Inc.-owned Pocono Record today gleefully reported on the outcome of a two-week libel trial against the daily in Monroe County (Pa.) Superior Court brought by real estate developer Gene Percudani and his company, Raintree Homes, over the paper's 2001 investigative probe of  unsavory home sale tactics, including the use of inflated appraisals.

After reviewing hundreds of documents and listening to two weeks of testimony, the jury took two hours, less time than required to concoct a dubious home appraisal, to find Percudani failed to prove the allegations against him and his business in the Pocono Record's series, "A Price too High," were false.  The articles by former Record reporter Matt Birbeck, a defendant in the case, detailed the practice of inflating the value of homes in the Poconos sold to vacation-home minded New Yorkers, which resulted in a surge of foreclosures.

The Pocono Record account of the trial outcome cited the testimony of the author of a 2004 state-commissioned foreclosure study that found Monroe County was fifth in the nation in the number of residential foreclosures.
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244k Germans Say 'Nein' to Google Street Maps

HANNOVER, GERMANY - MARCH 03:  The camera of a...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
According to an Associated Press story, nearly 3 percent of urban dwellers in Germany's 20 largest cities want no part of Mountain View, Calif.-based Google's Street View program.

Among the 23 nations where Street View is available, only Germany has enabled its populace to opt out of the Google program that pictures homes on the Internet. Citing individuals' privacy concerns, German authorities insisted  that Google accept requests from citizens who did not want to participate in the mapping program.

When Street View goes online, those who do not want to participate--roughly 244,000 people by Google's estimate--will be provided a tool by Google that will make their homes unrecognizable.

Germany apparently has misgivings about a virtual invasion, a position that Poland, France and Belgium may find ironic.
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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Maine Dailies: 'No Anonymous Posts Heah'

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Maine Today Media, Inc. dailies The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Standard have shuttered the comments section of their online editions.

Publisher Richard Connor attributed the move to numerous "hurtful and vulgar" anonymous postings following articles that appeared on, the online edition of the daily newspaper. He left open the possibility of reinstating the comments section provided a way can be found effectively to hold posters accountable for their remarks.
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NPR Down Juan Senior News Analyst

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NPR has cut lose senior news analyst Juan Williams, 56, following the commentators remarks about Muslims on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor.

Discussing the firestorm generated  by O'Reilly's comments on The View holding Muslims accountable for the 9/11 attacks, Williams said that when he boards a plane and sees passengers in Muslim garb, he gets "worried" and "nervous."  In terminating the contract of  Williams, who spent 24 years at The Washington Post, NPR said his remarks undermined his credibility as a news analyst and ran afoul of NPR's editorial standards and practices.  That Williams has also been a long-time commentator for Fox News has always been a sore spot with NPR.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Actor Asks Court: Who Made 'Crabs' Tweet?

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseBroadway singer/dancer and skating star Marty Thomas has asked a New York judge to order microblogger powerhouse Twitter to identify the creator of @bwayanonymous, the now inactive account that viciously tweeted Thomas contracted "crabs" from a fellow cast member of the play Avenue Q.

Thomas, who denies ever suffering from the sexually transmitted parasitic insects, claims he was defamed personally and as a professional actor by the unnamed Tweeter, who purportedly had 100 followers, and Martin is itching to know the blogger's true identity. The former star of Wicked and Xanadu and one-time  Broadway "Hottie of the Month" as voted by,  has been fodder for the tabloids since word of the crabs accusation and his lawsuit leaked out.

What a lousy thing to do.

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Google's Anthem: Oh, Canada, We Breached Your Privacy...

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Google Street View vehicles that accidentally captured individuals' personal information committed a serious violation of Canadians' privacy rights, the country's Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, said yesterday.

 User names and passwords, unredacted email addresses, and individuals' names, addresses and residential phone numbers were among the data scanned from unencrypted Wi-Fi networks by vehicles owned by the Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, according to a report by CNBC News.  Commissioner Stoddart has given Google until Feb. 1, 2011, to expunge the improperly compiled data.

Google has drawn international criticism for its alleged breach of privacy, including from the Czech Republic (see "TUOL" post 9/22/10), Australia (see "TUOL" post 7/9/10) and among Attorneys General in the U.S. (see "TUOL" post 6/16/10).

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rough Trade: Editor and Publisher Cleans House

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Editor & Publisher, the trade magazine that covers the beleaguered newspaper industry, found itself making news yesterday after its three top editors were fired via email.

Editor Mark Fitzgerald, a 26-year veteran of E & P, along with Managing Editor Shawn Moynihan and Senior Editor Jim Rosenberg were shown the door by E & P owner Duncan McIntosh, which purchased the magazine in January 2010.  The new owner wants to take the publication in a new direction, which may be downhill.

Jeff Fleming and Kristina Achermann, respectively,  will assume Fitzgerald's and Moynihan's positions.

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Financial Columnist Quits Over Nondisclosure of Stock Ownership

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Thomson Reuters' Breakingviews financial columnist Neil Collins has resigned for failing to disclose that dating back to March 2009, he wrote articles commenting on 15 companies in which he held ownership shares, according to an article in The Guardian.

Thomson Reuters has refiled 53 online columns, mostly by Collins, as well as by Breakingviews reporters Margaret Doyle and Neil Unmack, to which disclaimers were added that noted the writer's personal investment in the company being profiled, according to The Guardian.  Among the entities that Collins wrote about, but failed to mention his stockholdings in were BP, Yell, Marks & Spencer and Diageo.

Collins resignation was accepted for violating Thomson Reuter's code of conduct, though Collins was not accused of exploiting his columnist position for personal gain.  Collins was city editor of the Daily Telegraph for 19 years and also worked for the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Times.  
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Victory 'Lap': Westchester Weekly Scores $8m Verdict Against Mayor

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Trade journal Editor & Publisher reports that Yonkers (N.Y.) Mayor Philip Amicone this week was socked with an $8 million verdict in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in a civil rights lawsuit brought by Sam Zherka, publisher of the weekly Westchester Guardian.

Filed in October 2007, Zherka v. Amicone (Case No. 7:2007cv09618), alleged that Amicone had news racks confiscated and copies of the Guardian seized in Summer 2007 after the paper published negative articles about him. The Guardian claimed police were ticketing Guardian employees who distributed the weekly in the streets.

It was a not good week for Amicone overall, as he also lost his defamation suit against the Guardian that arose from a 2007 election eve Guardian story that alleged Amicone frequented gentlemen's clubs and had received a lap dance.

Zherka brought a civil rights claim against Amicone under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, which in relevant part states:

"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress..."

In the you can't make this stuff up category, Zherka apparently also owns the strip club where the celebrated mayoral lap dance allegedly occurred, according to The Journal News in White Plains (N.Y.).  Mayor Amicone isn't the only loser in this case as Zherka claims the lap dancer never received her $20 fee from the mayor for her efforts.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canada to Craigslist: Drop the Adult Ads, Eh?

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Hopeful that online classified advertising giant Craigslist's decision last month to discontinue accepting adult services ads under pressure from several states' attorneys general might be replicated, three Ontario, Canada cabinet ministers sent a letter to Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster urging Craigslist to stop accepting ads for prostitutes in Ontario, according to a story in The Globe and Mail.

The ministers' September 14 letter praised Craigslist for its decision in the U.S. and said it was "a matter of fairness" that Craigslist stop running the adult services ads in Canadian cities. 
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama Deletes SEC FOIA Exemption

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President Barack Obama last week signed Senate Bill 3717, removing an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act [5 U.S.C. sec. 552 et seq.] that could have enabled the Securities and Exchange Commission to withhold documents regarding much of its regulatory and oversight duties.

The measure, which took aim at sec. 9291 of the Dodd-Frank Wall St. Reform & Consumer Protection Act,  affords Wall St. institutions some protection from SEC investigatory and regulatory activities under FOIA exemption 8 that shields matters "contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions," heretofore, banks, investment banks and trust companies.

Sec. 9291 was attacked by open government proponents as overbroad and potentially applicable to any SEC action or inquiry.
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D.C. Appeals Court Sides With U.S. in Gitmo Detainee's Disclosure Claim

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In Djamel Amaziane v. Barack Obama et al. (Docket No. 09-5236), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week overturned a trial judge's ordered disclosure of information concerning  Algerian Djamel Amaziane, who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Station for more than eight years.

According to the Jurist Web site,  in a heavily redacted 19-page decision, the appeals court said the trial judge did not pay due deference to the government's claim that disclosure of sensitive information sought by Amaziane would compromise the nation's security and foreign policy interests. Still outstanding is a decision by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Amaziane's August 2008, complaint alleging that he was tortured and denied medical care, among other alleged abuses of his human rights, in violation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

Amaziane further alleges he has been deprived of a timely review of his habeas corpus petition
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2d Cir. Rekindles MSNBC Reporter's Libel Suit Against Network

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In Claudia DiFolco v. MSNBC Cable LLC, Rick Kaplan & Scott Leon (Docket No. 09-2821-cv), the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week reinstated defamation and breach of contract claims against the cable network brought by Claudia DiFolco, former Los Angeles correspondent for MSNBC at the Movies and MSNBC Entertainment Hot List.

The appellate court reversed the March 30, 2007, decision of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Loretta Preska's dismissal of DiFolco's lawsuit alleging defamation, breach of contract and tortious interference with prospective business relations for failure to state a claim by reinstating the contract and defamation counts.  Writing for the three-judge panel, Judge Roger Miner said the trial court precipitously accepted the defendants' argument that the plaintiff had resigned.

DiFolco contended that MSNBC President Rick Kaplan wrongly interpreted an email she sent about alleged mistreatment of her by producers of her programs to be her resignation before her two-year contract expired.  She alleged MSNBC leaked her purported departure to online industry news sites Inside Cable, News Blues and TV Spy, which she claimed defamed her in online articles. TV Spy posted a pseudonymous comment that DiFolco "believe[d] that cleavage, overtime in the makeup chair and a huge desire to become a star to pay your dues," while the other two sites claimed she quit MSNBC mid-contract.

Judge Preska ruled DiFolco's repudiation of her agreement negated her breach of contract claim and found the defenses of truth and fair comment (opinion) defeated her defamation claims.  The appeals court, however, noted that opinions grounded on false facts are actionable, so Judge Preska prematurely ruled TV Spy's posting was non-defamatory, and that the parties' email exchange did not reflect unequivocally DiFolco's intention to resign as correspondent, giving new life to the breach of contract allegation.

In this instance, MSNBC, whose new slogan is "Leaning Forward," may fall on its face.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Psychologist Wins Libel Case Against Calif. Weeklies Publisher

San Bernadino County Sheriff Patrol CarImage by Pyrat Wesly via Flickr
A jury this week found Raymond Pryke, publisher of California weeklies, including the Hesperia Resorter, Adelanto Bulletin and Apple Valley News, defamed psychologist Nancy Bohl in a series of articles from June 1999, to April 2000, alleging she used her relationship with her husband, former San Bernadino County Sheriff  Gary Penrod, to secure a county contract and that she provided the Sheriff's office with confidential material from her counseling sessions.

According to stories in The San Bernadino Sun and The Victorville Daily Press, following a six-week trial, the 12-member jury awarded Bohl, owner of The Counseling Team, which offers crisis intervention services to sheriff's deputies, damages totaling $332,500 for lost business, emotional distress and harm to her reputation. In her complaint filed in June 2000, Bohl sought $1.5 million in damages, as well as punitive damages.

According to newspaper accounts, the 87-year-old Pryke's weeklies claimed that Bohl turned over  information obtained during confidential counselor-patient  sessions to Sheriff Penrod, whom she was dating at the time. Seventeen witnesses testified at trial that no confidences were breached, and the jury unanimously found the newspapers' accusations false. 

Crucial to the favorable verdict for the plaintiff  was San Bernadino County Superior Court Judge Frank Gafkowski's ruling last August that Bohl was a private individual, not a public figure, which meant that she only needed to prove negligence on the defendant's part in publishing the purported defamatory articles, rather than the higher standard of actual malice, which requires a finding that the media defendant knew it was publishing false information or exhibited reckless disregard concerning the truth or falsity of the information.

The defendant has yet to decide whether to appeal.
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Demoted Editor's Gender Bias Suit Cites Advertiser Pressure

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Former Stoughton Hub Courier Editor Autumn Drussell has filed a gender discrimination suit with Wisconsin's Equal Rights Division against the weekly newspaper's publisher, the Woodward Communications, Inc.-owned Unified Newspaper Group, claiming she was demoted for a column she wrote, though a male supervisor who reviewed the column was not disciplined.

Drussell still works for the paper as a reporter and page designer, but is seeking reinstatement as editor, along with lost wages and attorneys fees, according to an Associated Press story.  She alleges that her demotion was in reprisal for a column she wrote last July after attending a Chamber of Commerce function in which she admonished local businesses to improve customer service and appeal to frugal patrons to compete with discount giants such as Wal-Mart and Target. Drussell wrote that the faltering economy had her shopping at the economy chain stores.

A local hardware store owner said he would no longer advertise with the Hub Courier until the economy approved, echoing the sentiments of several area advertisers who complained about Drussell's column.  A week after the column ran, the Hub Courier wrote an editorial imploring readers to shop locally and conceding that many businesses felt "betrayed" by Drussell's column.

Drussell's complaint claims that she lost her editorship days after the column appeared and that her employer pressured her to sign a document in which she agreed to 90 days probation and to stop writing columns.

Advertisers exerting influence on media outlets is nothing new and cannot be ignored in the harsh economic climate that newspapers and television news stations presently face.  Still, if Drussell's claims are borne out, the Hub Courier may have to undergo a name change to "Water Carrier."

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Alleged Art Theft Victims Sue County for Libel

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In Kennaugh et al. v. Monterey County (Case No. GNM108497) former Harvard Medical School physician Dr. Ralph Kennaugh and business partner Angelo Ben Amadio allege in Monterey County Superior Court that the county's Sheriff's Department defamed them by questioning the authenticity of a purported multi-million dollar art theft from the men's home.

As initially reported by the Central Coast News and also The Harvard Crimson, the plaintiffs allege in their complaint 26 purported defamatory statements by the Sheriff's Department regarding what the duo claim was last year's theft of artwork, including pieces by Rembrandt, Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, supposedly worth $80 million, from their Pebble Beach home.

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs claim the Sheriff's Dept. mishandled the case, questioned the men's veracity, investigated them for fraud, and further claim a detective allegedly slandered them by uttering a homophobic slur.

The Sheriff's Dept. found the plaintiffs unable sufficiently to document ownership of the art they reported stolen. At a press conference held by authorities, Commander Mike Richards allegedly characterized the alleged heist as a "scam" by one or both of the purported victims. Authorities contend the plaintiffs were uncooperative in the investigation.

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