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Subpoena to Virginia Blogger for Notes and Identification of Anonymous Commenters
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 2009 16:55:55 -0500

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Paul Levy" <plevy () citizen org>
Date: March 5, 2009 4:38:04 PM EST
To: <dave () farber net>
Subject: Subpoena to Virginia Blogger for Notes and Identification of Anonymous Commenters

Together with the ACLU of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Center for
Freedom of Expression, we have intervened in the case mentioned a few
days ago in which a plaintiff in a defamation case retaliated against a
blogger who covered his defamation suit in less than flattering terms by
sending a highly invasive subpoena that demands production of the
blogger's communications with his sources, IP numbers of all who  posted
on his web site or even READ the web site.  There have been only a
handful of cases in which courts have addressed whether bloggers should
be treated as journalists for the purpose of considering the reporters'
privilege.  We are also arguing that, in addition to protecting the
commenters  on the blog for the reasons usually argued -- protecting
their right of anonymous speech -- posters on a journalists blog should
be treated as "sources" whose disclosure violates the journalist's own

The brief can be found on our web site, URL is at the end of the
following release:

Paul Alan Levy
Public Citizen Litigation Group
1600 - 20th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 588-1000

Joe Newman 3/5/2009 4:25 PM >>>
For Immediate Release:

Paul Alan Levy (202) 588-1000
Rebecca K. Glenberg (804) 644-8080
Josh Wheeler (434) 295-4784

Court Should Not Force Virginia Blogger to Surrender Notes or Identify
Anonymous Comments

Freedom of the Press Protects ‘Non-Traditional’Journalists Too

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Charlottesville blogger has the same rights as a
mainstream journalist and cannot be forced to release his notes or
identify people who posted anonymously on his Web site, Public Citizen,
the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson
Center for the Protection of Free Expression said in a brief filed today
in a Virginia circuit court.

The same reporters privilege that protects newspaper and TV journalists
under Virginia law applies to Waldo Jaquith, who runs cvillenews.com,
said Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy, who represents Jaquith,
along with Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center and Rebecca
Glenberg of the ACLU of Virginia.

Thomas Garrett, an author, actor, radio personality and self-described
Hollywood publicist, subpoenaed Jaquith’s notes and Internet records
after Jaquith wrote about a defamation suit Garrett had filed against
The Hook, a Charlottesville alternative weekly. Garrett’s subpoena
seeks identifying information for anyone who posted comments about or
even looked at Jaquith’s blog entry on the suit. It also seeks any
e-mails to or from Jaquith relating to Garrett or the defamation suit,
and any documents “relating to information obtained, generated or
created in writing the [cvillenews.com] article.”

“One of our country’s founding values is that the person standing
on the soapbox in the town square has the same freedom of speech they
have at The New York Times or the Toledo Blade, for that matter,” Levy
said. “Bloggers such as Jaquith may not be ‘traditional’
journalists but they play an integral part in the way people get their
news today.”

The brief also argues that the subpoenaed documents are irrelevant to
Garrett’s defamation suit against The Hook. “It is difficult to see
how comments that were written and posted nearly nine months after the
alleged defamation took place could have any relevance to this sort of
cause of action,” Wheeler said.

Further, the brief argues that commenters on Jaquith’s blog have a
First Amendment right to do so anonymously and Garrett has provided no
evidence on why they should be unmasked.

“If this subpoena is allowed to stand, bloggers will have to look
over their shoulders whenever they write about a pending lawsuit,”
said Kent Willis, director of the ACLU of Virginia. “The chilling
effect could be devastating.”

        To read the brief, go to


Joe Newman
Press Officer / Public Citizen
1600 20th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 588-7703

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