Today I'm putting up the Popehat Signal seeking pro bono assistance for a threatened blogger and anonymous blog commenters.
For the moment, I'm only going to describe the case generally, though I may discuss it later at length. The blog in question reports on local crime stories in Ohio, and in this instance reported on a local prosecution of the rape of an unconscious young woman, allegedly by high school football players. One player was not accused of the rape, but was criticized on the blog based on an allegation that he took pictures of the unconscious young woman but did nothing to stop others from sexually assaulting her. He, and his parents, have now sued the blogger and have named multiple commenters as John Doe defendants and will seek to unmask them.
I've reviewed the complaint, and it appears to me that (1) many of the statements it complains of are archetypical statements of opinion protected under the First Amendment, and (2) that the relief it demands — including prior restraint on publication, removal of existing posts, and a court-mandated retraction and apology — are extremely questionable. Moreover, to the extent the suit attempts to assign liability to the blogger for the words of commenters, it runs afoul of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The suit has been filed in Jefferson County, Ohio. The blogger needs counsel, and the John Doe defendants may as well — whether individually or as a group to fight attempts to unmask them. This may be a case like the Planet Valenti matter where local power politics play a role.
If you can possibly help, or if you know anyone who can, please drop a line to ken at popehat etc. I will pass information along to the people involved.
Remember: because of the flaws in our legal system, defense of the First Amendment relies upon the vigorous participation of lawyers (and others) willing to lend a hand.
[Confidential to C.B. and C.T.: snookumses, I'm sure you'll be mewling about "why does he attack us but help these people!" One answer, as anyone with a room-temperature IQ will tell you, is that these people aren't engaged in wire fraud and extortion. Thx.]
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