Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wyo. High Court Says School Employees' Salaries Public Records

Wyoming state welcome sign, along Interstate 8...Image via WikipediaIn Laramie County School District No. One  v. Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc. d/b/a Wyoming Tribune Eagle & D. Reed Eckhardt (Case No. S-10-0221), the Wyoming Supreme Court this week upheld the trial court ruling that school district employees' names and salaries are not exempt from disclosure under the Wyoming Public Records Act ("WPRA") [Wyo. Stat. Ann. secs. 16-4-201 to 16-4-205].

In a 14-page opinion, the Wyoming High Court rejected the school district's argument that disclosure violated a Wyoming Education Code provision mandating publication of salaries without identifying the individual school district employees by name. The Tribune Eagle sought the documents in December 2009 under the WPRA, which makes public records "open for inspection by any person at reasonable times."

The Supreme Court ruled that although the newspaper was entitled to view records showing the employees' names and salaries, that other personal information, such as Social Security numbers and birthdates may be redacted to protect employee privacy because such information "is not part of the terms and conditions of employment."

The case was reported by the Website of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (

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Okla. Daily Erects Paywall to Draw Subscribers in and Keep Bison Out

Tulsa WorldImage via WikipediaOklahoma's second-largest circulating newspaper, The Tulsa World, next week will institute a metered payment paywall, the paper reported today.

Those already receiving the print version will have unlimited access to the daily's digital platforms, including and the paper's mobile, iPad, iPhone and Blackberry applications. Non-subscribers will be able to browse section index home pages such as sports, business, news and obituaries for free.

However, once non-subscribers have reached 10 pay views in a 30-day period, they will be asked to subscribe, from a variety of options.  For $14.99 a month, viewers can receive a 1-year digital subscription, whereas a 6-month subscription runs $15.99 a month and a 30-day subscription, $16.99 a month.  In contrast, a combined print and digital  7-days-a-week subscription costs $20 a month. Those who decline a digital subscription after reaching their 10 page-view maximum have to wait until the end of a 30-day period before having access to another 10 page views on the Website.

The Tulsa World, based in the nation's 61st largest media market, has been owned by the Lorton family since 1917. Other daily newspapers, such as the Dallas Morning News, have opted for a metered system to restrict the number of free views of locally produced articles before imposing a fee.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Electric Carmaker Charges BBC with Libel & Malicious Falsehood

DRESDEN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 13:  A visitor sit...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeIn Tesla Motors, Ltd. et al. v. BBC (Claim No. HQ11D01162), filed in the Queen's Bench Division of England's High Court of Justice this week, the maker of the electric Tesla Roadster sued popular program Top Gear for defamation and malicious falsehood over a Dec. 14, 2008, episode in which the vehicle allegedly didn't fare well in a series of tests.

As reported by Websites and and the carmaker's own Website, Tesla's 13-page Complaint specifically targets Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, along with executive producer Andrew Wilman and researcher Gavin Whitehead.  According to the Complaint, the defendant allegedly misrepresented the capabilities of the Roadster, including purportedly stating the vehicle had a 55-mile battery range, rather than the plaintiff's claimed 200-mile range; that Top Gear falsely claimed the brakes on a particular Roadster were broken; and that another tested vehicle alleged overheated, which the plaintiff denies. Tesla also claims footage showing a  Roadster being pushed into a hangar because it's power allegedly was drained also was untrue and actionable.

Clearly, the electric carmaker didn't get the kind of plug it was looking for from the BBC.

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Hearst Corp. Snatches Up French Publisher's Magazines

1973 Chevrolet reprint-car and driver awardImage via WikipediaMedia conglomerate Hearst Corp. has acquired French publisher Largardere's non-France-based magazines produced by Largardere's Hachette Filipacchi Media ("HFM") subsidiary located in Manhattan, according to The New York Post.

Hearst has been pursuing  HFM's stable of periodicals, which include Car & Driver, Road & Track, Elle and Woman's Day, for several months (see "TUOL" post 1/3/11). No word yet if HFM staffers, who work in the Time & Life Building, will face layoffs as a consequence of the Hearst acquisition.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Airing Video News Releases Nets Stations FCC Fines

Seal of the United States Federal Communicatio...Image via's TVSpy blog reports that Fox-owned KMSP-TV in Minneapolis and NBC Affiliate WMGM-TV in Linwood, N.J., were socked with $4,000 fines by the Federal Communications Commission for airing video news releases (VNR) without disclosing to viewers they were doing so and without airing footage from competing products.

The FCC enforced against the two stations Section 317 of the Communication Act of 1934 (37 U.S.C. sec. 317), which mandates that stations inform viewers if material is aired in exchange for money, services or other valuable consideration, and 47 C.F.R. sec. 73.1212, an FCC rule that articulates broadcasters' responsibilities to make such a sponsorship identification.  KMSP-TV showed a VNR about the zinc-based, cold-fighting medication Zicam, which included footage of a doctor recommending its usage, without showing footage of competitors' medications.

In the WMGM-TV matter, a VNR promoting General Motors-produced convertibles was shown, resulting in the FCC penalty, even though the station was not compensated by GM. The Center for Media and Democracy was one of the complainants to the FCC. The stations are considering appealing the fines.

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Fed Court to Texas Pols: No 1st Amendment Right to Closed Door Meetings

List of United States federal courthouses in TexasImage via WikipediaThe U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas last week ruled in Asgeirsson et al. v. Abbott (Case No. P-09-cv-00059) that the Texas Open Meetings Act ("TOMA") [Tex. Govt. Code sec. 551.001(3)] does not infringe on the First Amendment rights of elected officials by requiring them to conduct government meetings in public.

In a 37-page decision denying the plaintiffs' request for declaratory judgment, the federal court held that governmental entities "have no First Amendment right to conduct public business behind closed doors." To the contrary, the court wrote, "free discussion is suppressed when city council members close their meetings to the public."

In a long-waged battle (see "TUOL" posts 2/4/10 and 12/15/09), Texas officials condemned TOMA as constitutionally vague and voiced concern they could face fines and jail for violating its provisions. The court said the statute is content neutral in that it does not inhibit speech based on subject matter or substance, and legitimately serves the government's interests of fostering transparency in the government's decision-making process, shines a light on corruption and fraud and promotes trust in government.

The plaintiffs' plan to appeal the adverse ruling to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, according to a report on the Website for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Warner Bros. Giving Rotten Tomatoes a Squeeze

Warner Bros' first national studio, at BurbankImage via WikipediaWarner Bros. has emerged as the favorite to acquire Rotten Tomatoes' parent Flixster entertainment site, according to the Website All Things Digital (ATD).

Though neither party has confirmed the possible sale, All Things Digital says the asking price for the San Francisco-based Flixster is likely in the $60 million to $90 million range.  The five-year-old Flixster was founded by Joe Greenstein and Saran Chari, and  offers among its brands, social movie review site Rotten Tomatoes.

Warner Bros., which includes the Harry Potter, Batman and Rush Hour movies in its stable, has turned to social media in a big way, ATD reports, by engaging in a movie rental venture with Facebook.

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Legal Advocacy Group Files FOIA Claim on Honduras Coup

Highway in HondurasImage via WikipediaThe Jurist Website ( reports today that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a nonprofit legal and educational organization advocating for human rights under the U.S. Constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has filed a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act [5 U.S.C. sec. 552 et seq.] against the CIA and Department of Defense to obtain documents involving the 2009 coup in Honduras in which then-President Manual Zelaya was abducted by Honduran military officers and flown out of the country to Costa Rica.

The FOIA complaint alleges that the named defendants withheld documents from the CCR concerning the coup's impact on the U.S. and its interests. The CCR has filed additional FOIA requests with the CIA and DOD on behalf of the Honduras Commission for Truth, which is probing coup-related human rights violations. Former President Zelaya and officials involved in his ouster all received immunity from Zelaya's successor.

"TUOL" expects that the mainstream news media will pick up on this story if Charlie Sheen adds Tegucigalpa as a stop in his Violent Torpedo of Death/Defeat Is Not an Option Tour.

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NYT: Facebook "Likes" Gibbs

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 5:  White House press...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe New York Times reports today that Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network goliath Facebook hopes to land former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for a senior slot to manage the company's communications.

Gibbs, 40, left the Obama Administration in February 2011, after serving two years as press secretary. Facebook has yet to make a formal offer to Gibbs, who was communications director during Barack Obama's senate and presidential campaigns.

Although his name has surfaced as a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee, Gibbs would cash in were he to join Facebook, where he would likely receive a hefty salary and shares in the company ahead of Facebook's anticipated Initial Public Offering in 2012. Before he was purportedly poked by Facebook, Gibbs was expected to play a prominent role in President Obama's re-election campaign.

Although many members of the White House press corps would just as soon "de-friend" Gibbs, that he knows his way around the Washington, D.C. corridors of power would be an asset to Facebook, which has bolstered its lobbying efforts before the FTC and Defense Intelligence Agency, the Times reports.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Federal Judge Says Twitter Impersonator May Be Liable to Real Tweeter

Follow me on Twitter logoImage via WikipediaBird impressions may make you the life of some parties, but impersonating a Tweeter could expose you to liability under federal law, according to a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

As first reported by, Judge Amy J. St. Eve declined to dismiss claims of violation of right of publicity and violation of the Lanham Act [15 U.S.C. sec. 1051 et seq.] in a case brought by an employee against her boss whom she alleges sent Tweets from her account while she was incapacitated. Construing the facts most favorably for the plaintiff in weighing the defendants' motion to dismiss, Judge St. Eve said the plaintiff has alleged "a commercial injury based on defendants' deceptive use of her name and likeness."

As marketing director for Chicago-based Susan Fredman Design Group, Jill Maremont heavily relied on social media to promote the interior designer, posting updates on Twitter concerning local designers and interior decorating and writing a blog about the company. Maremont suffered a brain injury after she was hit by an automobile and was incapacitated for roughly nine months, unable to Tweet because it made her dizzy.

While hospitalized, Maremont learned that her Twitter account was still being updated. She sued her employer, alleging her name and image were being used in a misleading way. The defendant counters that because the Twitter account was being used to promote her company, at most, she did the plaintiff's job without her permission.

Besides the claims raised in the case, an Internet law specialist contacted by suggests that the defendant might face liability for privacy invasion under the federal Stored Communications Act [18 U.S.C. secs. 2701-2712].

Fake Celebrity Twitter accounts are commonplace, but this uncharted territory is on its way to being mapped by cases such as this.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

North of the Border Intermedia War Over Anonymous Bloggers Breaks Out

CBC RadioImage via WikipediaThe Yukon News and CBC Radio have reached an accord, averting what could have been a precedent-setting case involving one Canadian news organization suing another to identify that media outlet's anonymous sources, according to an article in the Whitehorse Star, as reported by www.stinkyjournalism. org.

The News wanted a CBC reporter to identify her anonymous sources from a 2004 story involving a prescription drug abuse case so that the daily could use those sources as witnesses to defend itself against a defamation suit brought by a physician.  Under a consent decree involving the two media organizations and the physician, the News will pay the radio station's legal costs. In turn, the CBC reporter will testify on the Yukon News' behalf at the defamation trial, rather than "out" her sources.

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Online Visits to Vt. Daily Plummet After Paywall Erected

Rutland HeraldImage via WikipediaWCAX-TV's Website reports that The Rutland Herald, which plans to debut a revamped Website in the coming weeks, has seen monthly page views drop to 2.4 million from 3.9 million since it erected a paywall last October.

Vermont Community Media (VCM), which owns both the Herald and The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, charges online subscribers $2.99 a week., a free community news site also owned by VCM, will also receive a Website makeover in the months ahead, according to WCAX.
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Solon's Bill Would Extend Pokin' Convicts' Pokey Stay

cell phoneImage via WikipediaCharleston (S.C.) Democrat Rep. Wendell Gilliard is worried about crime victims being intimidated online by their assailants.

Rep. Gilliard has introduced legislation that would impose a $500 fine and tack on up to an additional 30 days' imprisonment to any inmate caught interacting on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, via cellphone, according to an Associated Press story. Prison officials claim inmates routinely update their social media status through the use of cellphones that are smuggled into prisons. "TUOL" imagines "it's complicated" is widely used by inmates on their Facebook pages to characterize their relationships.

Rep. Gilliard's measure would also subject to punishment anyone who helped an incarcerated individual establish a social media presence, which opponents claim violates inmates' First Amendment rights. The ACLU opposes the proposed legislation and has combatted a somewhat similar law in Arizona in the past.

Facebook shuts down prisoner pages when it becomes aware of them. If passed, South Carolina would become the first state to criminalize prisoners' presence in the social network arena.
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Sudan Charges 3 Journos With Defamation

Flag of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Mov...Image via WikipediaReporters Without Borders ("RWB") is voicing concerns about curbs on free expression in Sudan after authorities charged three journalists with defamation for urging a probe into allegations of the purported gang rape of a political activist by plain-clothes security officers.

Saffia Ishaq, a member of Grifna, an anti-government group, claims she was beaten and gang-raped three weeks after she participated in anti-government protests on Jan. 30 that resulted in numerous arrests of demonstrators and journalists covering the event by anti-riot police backed by National Intelligence and Security Services agents, according to a story in the Sudan Tribune. Accused of defamation and publishing false information were Faysal Muhammed Salih, a columnist for the daily, Al-Akhbar; Amal Habani of  the Al-Jareeda newspaper; and Fayiz al-Silaik of the SPLM-affiliated Ajrass Al-Hurriyah.

The Sudan Tribune reported that copies of two dailies covering the Jan. 30 demonstrations were confiscated by the government. Habani told Reuters that her newspaper had fired her because it was afraid of government retribution.

RWB Secretary-General Jean Francois Julliard condemned the reporters' arrest, calling it "another example of determination to gag the press and curb free expression." Broadcast media in Sudan is tightly regulated by the government, while print media engage in self-censorship because of financial dependence on government advertisements.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Bad Apple in the Amazon?

CUPERTINO, CA - MARCH 6:  (FILE PHOTO) Apple C...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThey were still sweeping up the celebratory confetti from the launching of Seattle-based Amazon, Inc.'s  Appstore, offering applications for Google's Android smartphones, when Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple, Inc. swept in and said: "Say Hello to Litigation."

According to stories in The Los Angeles Times and Fast Company, Apple sued for unfair competition and trademark infringement over the use of the phrase Appstore, contending that its use by Amazon will confuse and mislead consumers. Amazon's digital storefront was offering for download 3,800 Android apps from the outset. Citing Microsoft's Marketplace as an example, Apple contends other mobile app retailers have managed to avoid the Appstore moniker, and expects Amazon to follow suit, as it were.

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Post Plagiarist Punished

The Pulitzer Prize gold medal awardImage via WikipediaNo rest for the weary. No sooner had the dedicated staff of "TUOL" landed in the nation's capital for some
R & R from the rough-and-tumble world of media law and journalism ethics than it was confronted by three-time Pulitzer Prize winning, 27-year Washington Post veteran reporter Sari Horwitz's admitted plagiarism of two articles from The Arizona Republic.

Horwitz, a Tucson native, in reporting on proceedings against Jared Lee Loughner, accused shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, borrowed two paragraphs from a March 4 Republic story about charges facing Loughner, and 10 paragraphs of a 15-paragraph Republic story on March 10, without crediting the Arizona daily, according to a story in The Washington Post.

Horwitz owned up to appropriating the work of the Republic reporter, blaming tight deadline pressure for her transgression.  The paper suspended her without pay for three months. Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton weighed in on the subject, noting that plagiarism in his eyes was "theft."

Pexton cited a call he received from a local schoolteacher about the matter. "Teaching her students about plagiarism," Pexton wrote, "...has become her hardest task of the year because they are so accustomed to lifting information off the Internet with no attribution. She often uses The Post as a model for how to do it right. Her job just got harder."

Plagiarism is a cardinal sin in the profession that tarnishes the reputation of all journalists who already are losing ground in the credibility battle with a skeptical public. It has to be a firing offense, even when the wrongdoer is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the Post has not covered itself in glory with a mealy-mouth rationale for its three-month suspension that Horwitz's cheating was an aberration in a stellar career.

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Paying for a Gray Lady

Logo of The New York Times.Image via WikipediaBeginning next Monday, The New York Times' paywall will be unveiled.

Those who visit (30 million readers monthly, by the daily's estimate) will be able to view 20 articles free of charge before they have to choose from among three digital options: $15 for full access to four weeks of the Website and a mobile phone app; $20 for access to the Website and an iPad app; or $35 for all-access. Except for e-readers such as Kindle and Nook, Times subscribers who receive home delivery will have free access to all Times' digital plaforms.

Times executives expect 85 percent of their online visitors will not surpass the free 20-article quota, but are banking on not losing readers who can access news for free at CNN, BBC and other Websites. Readers may access the Times via search engines such as Google or from social media including Twitter and Facebook, but there is a five-article-a-day limit, which sounds like a journalism "happy hour."

Ad revenues for the Gray Lady declined 2.1 percent in 2010. "TUOL" has addressed the imminent Times paywall construction in the past (see "TUOL"post 1/21/11), and, although columnist Thomas Friedman is still around to solve the world's problems, this blog wonders how many visitors will pony up for the twenty-first article now that Frank Rich has taken his considerable talents to New York magazine and other standbys such as the Sunday magazine's "On Language" column have gone the way of the dodo and, er, the newspaper.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

South Carolina High Court Sides with Daily on FOIA Request

The Supreme Court of South Carolina's buildingImage via WikipediaIn Evening Post Pub. Co. d/b/a The Post and Courier v. Berkeley County School District (Case No. 26949), the South Carolina Supreme Court this week reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the school district and ordered the district to produce to the daily newspaper a copy of the blank questionnaire used by the nine-member county school board to evaluate the performance of former Supt. Chester Floyd.

The newspaper and school district have been at loggerheads since 2007 when the board denied The Post and Courier's request under the state's Freedom of Information Act [S.C. Code Sec. 30-4-10] for each board member's summation of Floyd's job performance, citing attorney-client privilege as protecting the documents because the board's counsel had overseen the process.

Floyd, who left Berkeley County in 2009 and presently serves as Superintendent for Lexington County School District 3, according to The Post and Courier, received a 5 percent salary boost in 2007 to $196, 980, based on a favorable review from five of the board's nine members.  Berkeley County officials refused to provide the newspaper with the remaining four members' evaluations of Floyd, instead, releasing only an overall evaluation of his performance.

According to an article in The Post and Courier, the school district has thus far spent more than $73,000 in legal fees defending its position in the case.

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Google Experiences Expensive 'Street View' from Paris

CNIL: la protection des données personnellesImage by N'ayez pas peur !! La Fabrique de Blogs via FlickrMountain View, California-based Internet search giant Google has been socked with a euro100,000 ($142,114) fine by CNIL (Commission nationale de l'informatique et des libertes), France's independent administrative authority concerned with privacy issues, over Google's admitted transgressions involving Street View, which offers three-dimensional city maps worldwide.

According to Associated Press, Google has been targeted by 30 countries who complained about Google's purported inadvertent amassing of passwords and other personal data via unsecured wireless networks during the Street View project.  Among nations considering penalties are Great Britain, Australia, the Czech Republic and Canada. [See "TUOL" posts 11/19/10, 10/20/10, 9/22/10, and 7/9/10.]

Google accumulated the data, which it has promised to delete, from 2007 to 2010, capturing the information from camera-mounted cars and bicycles. The penalty assessed against Google is the largest fine ever imposed by CNIL.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Capitol Idea

The western front of the United States Capitol...Image via WikipediaThe blog will resume on Monday, March 21. Until that time, the devoted staff of "TUOL" will be in Washington, D.C. to try to determine what Congress' problem seems to be. We'll be taking down names, if necessary.

Play nice while we're away.

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Ref Whistles Sports Journo's Allegedly Libelous Tweet

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 28: Damien Wilkins #...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThough he's usually on a basketball court, NBA Ref. Bill Spooner instead has opted for the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to resolve his dispute against Associated Press and AP sportswriter Jon Crawczynski.

In William H. Spooner v. The Associated Press, Inc. & Jon Crawczynski (Case No. 11-cv-00642-JRT), the striped-shirted plaintiff is seeking $75,000 damages for what he claims was a defamatory Tweet by Crawczynski during a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets last January 24. According to accounts in the local media, including and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Spooner and Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis were jawing over a foul call against Timberwolf Anthony Tolliver that resulted in free throws for a Rocket player.

Spooner claims he promised the coach he would review the call on video at halftime and get back to him, walked away,  and that was the end of it. Crawczynski, who was sitting near the scorer's table at courtside, saw things differently, as indicated by his Tweet underlying the defamation and respondeat superior claims: "Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he'd 'get it back' after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That's NBA officiating folks."

In his suit, Spooner alleges the defendant  "knowingly, recklessly and negligently implied to the NBA, the coaches, the players and the viewing public that Referee Spooner intended to, and did, make a false officiating call on Coach Rambis' behalf in order to add points to the Timberwolves, a form of game fixing."
Spooner, a 22-year veteran NBA referee, said the offending Tweet prompted the league to discipline him.

The plaintiff contends the defendants knowingly fabricated the quote in the Tweet, which the defendants have declined to take down. Crawczynski's Twitter account has more than 2,000 followers. Demonstrating the defendants acted with "actual malice" may prove more challenging to Spooner than racing up and down the court surrounded by behemoths for 48 minutes.

As for the game itself, the Rockets downed the Timberwolves 129-125. Coach Rambis' squad has a won/lost record of  17-51, and needs more help than a purportedly errant tweet of the ref whistle variety can provide.

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Media & Watchdog Group Press for Pension Records' Release

Downtown San DiegoImage via WikipediaIn a 24-page decision last fall, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Taylor said the case at issue posed "a conflict between two bedrock principles of our democracy: the public's right to know information about the finances and operations of its government and the individual citizen's right to privacy."

In CFFR & Marcia Fritz v. SDCERA (Case No. 2010-00098768), Californians for Fiscal Responsibility ("CFFR"), a taxpayer watchdog group, and several news media outlets, including the San Diego Times-Union, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and The Associated Press find themselves on the same side against the San Diego County Employees Retirement Association ("SDCERA"), trying to compel San Diego County's pension board to release pension information concerning its highest-paid retirees, according to a story in the Union-Tribune.

The pension board declined to release the names and pension data of 350 retirees whose annual pension earnings top $100,000 on the grounds that disclosure would subject the former government workers to identity theft and elder abuse.

But judges in California counties including Orange, San Diego, Sonoma and Sacramento have found that the names of pension recipients who were former government employees is a matter of public record. SDCERA is appealing Judge Taylor's order granting a petition for writ of mandate in which he ruled: "[the] evidentiary record,,,fails to establish that the retirees' privacy rights clearly outweigh CFFR's interest in receiving the information."

Proponents favoring disclosure of the pension information further cite as precedent two Attorney General Opinions finding names and pension amounts of retired public employees are not exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act [Govt. Code Secs. 62.50-62.76.48].

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Minn. Blogger 'Johnny Northside' on Wrong Side of Jury Verdict

Seal of Hennepin County, MinnesotaImage via Wikipedia"Truth is a defense to libel" is a legal truism that may no longer embolden citizen journalist bloggers who last week saw a seven-member Hennepin County (Minn.) Civil Court jury sock John Hoff of The Adventures of Johnny Northside blog with a $60,000 judgment.

In the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota case, Jerry Moore v. Don Allen & John Hoff (Case No. 27-cv-09-17778), the plaintiff was awarded damages of $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress in his tortious interference with contract claim, according to an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Moore, the former director of the Jordan Area Community Council, sued Hoff in June 2009, blaming the blogger for his termination by the University of Minnesota, where Moore was hired to study mortgage foreclosure economics by the university's Urban Research & Outreach/Engagement Center. Don Allen was dropped from the case as a defendant after he and Moore reached a settlement and later testified at trial against Hoff.

Moore alleged Hoff,  blogging as his alter ego Johnny Northside, created a "defamation zone" through five posts, one of which alleged Moore was involved in a "high-profile fraudulent mortgage" out of which former realtor Larry Maxwell was convicted and sentenced to a 16-year prison term.  Moore was not a defendant in the Maxwell case. Moore was fired the day after a Hoff blog post about him appeared.

District Judge Denise D. Reilly tossed four of the five purportedly libelous posts as not being susceptible to a defamatory meaning, but rather, constituting Hoff's opinion. The jury, however, found that Hoff interfered with Moore's employment relationship with UM that resulted in Moore's ouster. Hoff allegedly took credit for Moore's dismissal in a subsequent post.

Hoff, who alleged his post was truthful and that he had the documentation to back his linking of the plaintiff to the mortgage debacle, is expected to appeal the verdict. Some media law experts and court watchers fret that the verdict against Hoff could have a chilling effect on citizen journalism and believe the decision will be overturned on First Amendment grounds, while others cite appellate courts' deference toward jury verdicts.

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Tweet, Tweet, Old Chap, and All That Defamation...

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseThe U.K.'s first "twibel" case ended badly for a politician in Wales whose erroneous tweet resulted in a defamation judgment against him, according to the Web site

Colin Elsbury, the Plaid Cymru candidate who captured the 2009 County Council seat, used Twitter to disclose that his opponent, Eddie Talbot, allegedly had been escorted from a polling place by police. Problem is, the tweet wasn't twue, er, true.

"A case of mistaken identity," Elsbury said after the fact. Three-thousand pounds ($4,805) damages, said the High Court after the facts.  Considering legal costs of 50,000 pounds ($80,093) on top of that, and that's an expensive 140 characters, no matter how you look at it.

Elsbury's unwanted achievement of being the U.K.'s first "twibel" case loser is significant in the arena of defamation law because it indicates that libel defendants in cases involving social media, such as Twitter, won't benefit, like print journalism defamation defendants, from the incomplete defense of "retraction"--that is, promptly remedying an erroneous statement with an unequivocal correction and taking back of the false statement. The speed and broad swath of a false Tweet seems to invite swift retribution in the courtroom.

Elsbury accepts the adverse ruling and considers it a warning to others in the Twittersphere, so he's unlikely to welch on his obligation.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

UPDATE: Blockbuster Video Lives to Rewind Another Day

Former Blockbuster Video store, Chestnut Hill MAImage by Chris Devers via FlickrBlockbuster, Inc, the Dallas-based video rental chain, narrowly dodged immediate liquidation last week, and instead, will be sold at auction, according to reports by Bloomberg News and legal Web site Am Law Daily.

Blockbuster sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last September in federal bankruptcy court in New York (see "TUOL" post 9/23/10). Judge Burton Lifland accepted the public auction deal presented by lenders, including Monarch Alternative Capital LP. Judge Lifland also ruled that corporate marauder Carl Icahn may submit a bid for Blockbuster at the auction.

No date for the auction of the company founded in 1985 has been announced. "TUOL" wonders if there will be a penalty if the auction last more than 2 or 3 days. 

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