Internet Law

Michigan Appeals Court to Consider Anonymity for Blogger Who Criticized Cooley Law School

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The Michigan Court of Appeals will consider today whether to protect the identity of a blogging former law student who criticized his alma mater, the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law.

Public Citizen lawyer Paul Levy will appear on behalf of the anonymous blogger who questioned Cooley’s employment statistics and claimed the school’s actions were “criminal” and a “fraud,” Reuters reports. Cooley sued the blogger for defamation and learned the person’s identity from the blog’s Internet hosting company. Now the school wants to publicly identify the blogger.

Lawyers representing the blogger asked the appeals court in a brief (PDF) to adopt a “developing consensus” standard when courts consider requests to unmask anonymous speakers. The standard requires the court to:

• Provide notice to the anonymous speaker and an opportunity to defend secrecy.

• Require the plaintiff to identify the statements alleged to have violated his rights.

• Review the complaint to ensure it states a cause of action.

• Require evidence supporting the claims.

• Weigh the potential harm to the plaintiff from being unable to proceed with the harm to the defendant from losing anonymity.

“The court can thus ensure that a plaintiff does not obtain an important form of relief—identifying its anonymous critics—and that the defendant is not denied important First Amendment rights unless the plaintiff has a realistic chance of success on the merits,” according to the brief.

Cooley argues that Michigan law does not require plaintiffs to prove the strength of their claims before obtaining discovery, Reuters says.

The trial judge hearing the case had ruled that Cooley would not have to show actual malice to prove defamation, but put the issues in the case on hold to allow the interlocutory appeal.

Related coverage: “In Buyer Beware Decision, Judge Tosses Grads’ Suit Against Cooley Law School” “Cooley Sues Law Firm and Bloggers, Says Law School Falsely Accused of Misstating Grads’ Success”

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