Internet Law

Judge allows 'look-see' at computers seized in blogging defamation probe

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A Louisiana judge said on Friday he will allow a “look-see” at home computers seized by Terrebone Parish sheriff’s deputies based on allegations that their owner—a former sheriff’s deputy—may be the blogger who accused the sheriff’s office of improprieties.

Judge Randall Bethancourt of Terrebonne Parish had approved a search warrant before the raid last Tuesday on the home of the former deputy, Houma Police Officer Wayne Anderson, WWL-TV reports. On Friday, Bethancourt said the criminal defamation statute is pretty broad and he would allow a “look-see” to see if the computers contained defamatory statements.

Sheriff Jerry Larpenter defended the raid. “If you’re gonna lie about me and make it under a fictitious name, I’m gonna come after you,” he told WWL-TV. Houma Today and the Daily Comet have criticized the raid.

Bethancourt approved the warrant based on allegations by an insurance agent about a blogger at ExposeDAT. According to the insurance agent, the blogger wrongly accused him of earning broker fees from the sheriff’s office even as the sheriff’s wife earned a six-figure paycheck managing the agent’s insurance office. That report was wrong, the agent said, because it is his partner who has the contract with the sheriff’s office.

A lawyer for Anderson had argued that the warrant should not have been approved. He told Bethancourt that the state’s criminal defamation statute has been ruled unconstitutional as it relates to comments about public officials or private individuals involved in public affairs.

Anderson was suspended from the police force after the raid. He has denied operating the blog.

Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino told WWL-TV that contracts discussed on the blog should be examined under state ethics laws. “And the notion that search warrants are issuing and the house of a media commentator is being searched for the content of speech posted on a public website is absolutely extraordinary,” he said. “It’s amazing we’re having this conversation in Louisiana rather than in Iran.”

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