Media & Communications Law

Blogger Isn't Protected by N.J. Shield Laws, Judge Rules

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A judge in New Jersey superior court ruled last week that Shellee Hale of Washington state is not protected by New Jersey shield laws for her posts on an online message board, and that a slander suit against her can proceed.

Superior Court Judge Louis Locascio wrote that Hale’s online comments were nothing more than the opinions of a “private person with unexplained motives for her postings,” and cannot be given the same protections as a journalist from a “legitimate news publication,” the Star-Ledger reports.

“To extend the newsperson’s privilege to such posters would mean anyone with an e-mail address, with no connection to any legitimate news publication, would post anything on the internet and hide behind the shield law’s protections,” Locascio wrote.

Hale, who has four blogs, was sued last year by Too Much Media, based in Freehold, N.J. The company’s principals say that in Hale’s posts in forums, she defamed the company by writing, among other things, that the firm had violated state laws protecting consumers against identity theft. They demanded that Hale reveal her sources for those allegations. Hale refused, citing the state’s shield law because she was in the process of writing an article about a security breach of the firm’s software.

Hale testified before Locasio in April that she never published the article in question because she feared for her safety.

Hale’s attorney, Jeffrey Pollock of Princeton, N.J., told the Star-Ledger he was disappointed with the decision would either appeal or ask the judge to reconsider the ruling. He also argued Hale’s comments should be considered by the more-difficult-to-prove libel standard rather than the slander standard.

Too Much Media’s attorney, Joel Kreizman of Ocean Township, N.J., says the judge got it right.

“To say that everybody who blogs and is entitled to the shield nullifies what it’s there for,” he said. “He understood the Internet is just another means of communication. It doesn’t mean you can communicate anything you want.”

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