Los Angeles CA Aug 23 2010 The Internet has allowed tens of millions of Americans to be published writers. But it also has led to a surge in lawsuits from those who say they were hurt, defamed or threatened by what they read, according to groups that track media lawsuits.
“It was probably inevitable, but we have seen a steady growth in litigation over content on the Internet,” said Sandra Baron, executive director of the Media Law Resource Center in New York.
Although bloggers may have a free-speech right to say what they want online, courts have found that they are not protected from being sued for their comments, even if they are posted anonymously.
Some postings have even led to criminal charges.
Hal Turner, a right-wing blogger from New Jersey, faces up to 10 years in prison for posting a comment that three Chicago judges “deserve to be killed” for having rejected a 2nd Amendment challenge to the city’s handgun ban in 2009. Turner, who also ran his own Web-based radio show, thought it “was political trash talk,” his lawyer said. But this month a jury in Brooklyn, N.Y., convicted him of threatening the lives of the judges on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In western Pennsylvania, a judge recently ruled a community website must identify the Internet address of individuals who posted comments calling a township official a “jerk” who put money from the taxpayers in “his pocket.” The official also owned a used car dealership, and one commenter called his cars “junk.” The official sued for defamation, saying the comments were false and damaged his reputation.
In April, a North Carolina county official won a similar ruling after some anonymous bloggers on a local website called him a slumlord.
“Most people have no idea of the liability they face when they publish something online,” said Eric Goldman, who teaches Internet law at Santa Clara University. “A whole new generation can publish now, but they don’t understand the legal dangers they could face. People are shocked to learn they can be sued for posting something that says, ‘My dentist stinks.’ “
Under federal law, websites generally are not liable for comments posted by outsiders. They can, however, be forced to reveal the poster’s identity if the post includes false information presented as fact.
Calling someone a “jerk” and a “buffoon” may be safe from a lawsuit because it states an opinion. Saying he wrongly “pocketed” public money could lead to a defamation claim because it asserts something as a fact.
“A lot of people don’t know how easy it is to track them down” once a lawsuit is filed, said Sara J. Rose, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer in Pittsburgh.
The Supreme Court has said that the 1st Amendment’s protection for the freedom of speech includes the right to publish “anonymous” pamphlets. But recently, judges have been saying that online speakers do not always have a right to remain anonymous.
Last month, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Nevada judge’s order requiring the disclosure of the identity of three people accused of conducting an “Internet smear campaign via anonymous postings” against Quixtar, the successor to the well-known Amway Corp.
“The right to speak, whether anonymously or otherwise, is not unlimited,” wrote Judge Margaret McKeown.
Quixtar had sued, contending the postings were damaging to its business. The judge who first ordered the disclosure said the Internet had “great potential for irresponsible, malicious and harmful communication.” Moreover, the “speed and power of Internet technology makes it difficult for the truth to ‘catch up to the lie,’ ” he wrote.
Media law experts say lawsuits over Internet postings are hard to track because many of them arise from local disputes. They rarely result in large verdicts or lengthy appeals to high courts.
Goldman, the Santa Clara professor, describes these cases as the “thin-skinned plaintiff versus the griper.” They begin with someone who goes online to complain, perhaps about a restaurant, a contractor, a store, a former boss or a public official. Sometimes, one person’s complaint prompts others to vent with even sharper, harsher complaints.
“There’s a false sense of safety on the Internet,” said Kimberley Isbell, a lawyer for the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University. “If you think you can be anonymous, you may not exercise the same judgment” before posting a comment, she said.
Not surprisingly, the target of the online complaints may think he or she has no choice but to take legal action if the comments are false and malicious.
“These can be life-changing lawsuits. They can go on for years and cost enormous amounts in legal fees,” Goldman said.
He is particularly concerned about teenagers and what they post online. “Teenagers do what you might expect. They say things they shouldn’t say. They do stupid things,” he said. “We don’t have a legal standard for defamation that excuses kids.”
Media law experts repeat the advice that bloggers and e-mailers need to think twice before sending a message.
“The first thing people need to realize, they can be held accountable for what they say online,” Baron said. “Before you speak ill of anyone online, you should think hard before pressing the ‘send’ button.”
Long Beach CA Aug 23 2010 Three Long Beach residents were killed early Sunday when a car that had been racing down Ocean Boulevard smashed into a concrete sign, police said.
The driver of a Mustang was racing the driver of a Taurus eastbound on Ocean just after midnight when the two cars collided; the Mustang spun out of control and crashed into a concrete sign in the median, Long Beach police said. Three passengers were thrown from the car and two, a 32-year-old woman and another unidentified female, were pronounced dead at the scene. A 19-year-old man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, police said.
The driver, an 18-year-old man, also was pronounced dead at the scene.
The occupants of the Taurus, both 17-year-old boys, didn’t suffer major injuries and fled the scene on foot. The Long Beach residents were arrested later for fleeing the scene of an accident, and the car was found to be stolen, police said. The driver did not have a license.
Anyone with information can call the Long Beach police accident investigations at (562) 570-7355.
Juneau AK Aug 23 2010 John Angerer, 40, was arrested in Juneau on Anchorage probation violations little more than a month after being released from Colorado’s Boulder County Jail, where he had been held for five months on a charge of second-degree murder.
The Juneau Police Department, acting on a tip from a U.S. Federal Building security officer, arrested Angerer in front of the Alaska Cache Liquor store Thursday afternoon.
An e-mail sent to U.S. District Court Deputy Clerk Yvonne Davis from a friend began the process that led to Angerer’s arrest. Davis said the e-mail stated Angerer was spotted in the Juneau State Library using a fax machine to send information to his parole officer, Davis said. She then asked security officer Ben Coronell about the e-mail and he printed it and an accompanying photo of Angerer and took it to security officers in the lobby, she said.
“We just wanted to give them a heads up that this guy was in town,” Davis said. “They said Angerer had just been there in the morning, going to the social security office.”
Coronell then took the photo to the social security administration office and they called the Juneau Police Department. JPD then discovered Angerer had a probation violation.
Angerer was arrested Feb. 24 after a four-year investigation for the killing of Angela Wilds, 38, on June 4, 2006, according to news reports from the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera. According to an arrest warrant, friends saw Wilds, who was homeless, hugging and kissing Angerer at a barbecue in early 2006 and she disappeared after that. Hikers found the badly decomposed body that summer. A friend reported Wilds missing in the fall and DNA was used to identify the body. DNA samples from items near the body were eventually matched to Angerer.
Angerer was extradited to Colorado from Alaska where he was in Anchorage custody for probation violations, the newspaper reported. Hs violations included failing to report to his probation officer, failing an anger management program, consuming alcohol and violating a restraining order, court records state. After five months in the Boulder County (Colo.) Jail, a Boulder County judge ruled there was not enough evidence for the case against him to proceed.
DNA evidence showed Angerer had sex with Wilds within 72 hours of her death, even though he denied to police that he knew her, the newspaper reported. The article also said the Colorado District Attorney’s Office submitted testimony from a pathologist stating Wilds’ death was homicide by asphyxiation and prosecutor David Cheval stated the crime scene showed a homicide was committed. Wilds’ body was found in a shallow grave and the grave contained calcium oxide, commonly known as lime, Cheval said, according to the newspaper.
Colorado public defender Seth Temin used testimony from Boulder County Coroner’s Office chief pathologist John Meyer, who stated there was no evidence in the autopsy to conclude homicide, and death could have been due to severe artery blockage causing heart attack, the newspaper reported.
“I was surprised he was released from here,” said Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Oehlkers on Friday evening. “I was one of the initial detectives on the case and I am just surprised, I guess, because I am very familiar with the facts. The ruling surprised me but I know our district attorney will be appealing that ruling. We worked long and hard on that case.”
Boulder County Judge Thomas Reed, during the preliminary hearing, visibly struggled with the decision to drop the charges or send the case to trial, questioning whether the prosecutions pathologist testimony was credible as a matter of law, the newspaper reported.
When contacted by phone Friday Boulder County First Assistant District Attorney Ryan Brackley said an appeal from the decision to dismiss is underway.
“We feel that it was an incorrect decision,” Brackley said of Angerer’s release. “We expect that when the appeals court reviews the judge’s decision than John Angerer will no longer be Alaska’s problem he will be back in Colorado facing a murder charge.”
Angerer was arraigned Friday in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Patricia Collins on a petition to revoke probation.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams said Angerer was a flight risk and she was concerned about the safety of the community.
Angerer was visibly jittery in Collins’ courtroom “C,” tapping his legs and striking his shackles against the table.
“Is there anyway we can see what we can do about this today?” Angerer said, while being read his rights. “My charges were dismissed, I am not out on bail.”
Collins imposed a bail of $50,000 cash performance with a third-party custodian, and ordered immediate transport to Anchorage. He is scheduled to be arraigned there 1 p.m. Aug. 30.
Lindenwood University’s Belleville campus found itself with more students than its security force could handle.
So it offered a deal to Belleville police and the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department. Officers who volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours a week get free tuition.
About 35 officers and deputies have signed up and provide security 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Belleville Police Chief Bill Clay says volunteers wear their city or county uniforms on patrol at the school.
And they can call for backup by pushing a button on their radios.
The school expects enrollment to grow by more than 130 students this fall.
Bellevue WA Aug 23 2010 A bride was arrested speeding down Interstate 405 in Bellevue, Washington after her bachelorette party. The woman is not identified in the report, but police claim she was speeding down the freeway at 90mph and weaving in and out of traffic, when they followed her and pulled her over.
After an investigation, police charged that her blood-alcohol content was nearly two times the legal limit and made the arrest.
She was hauled to jail by a very understanding police officer. According to the Associated Press, Washington State Patrol Trooper Christina Martin “says a trooper arrested the woman, processed her and let her take a cab home in time to make it to her early afternoon wedding in Burien.”
She made the wedding, but will have to deal with the charge when she returns from her honeymoon.
The report adds she will will face charges in King County District Court.