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Order compelling Star to name online commenter stayed after arguments

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The Indianapolis Star won’t have to divulge the identity of an online commenter pending further order of the Indiana Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in a defamation case on Tuesday.

A panel of the court scheduled and heard arguments with dispatch because a trial court order compelled the Star to identify an anonymous online commenter by Nov. 16. The court issued a stay of that order that day and scheduled today’s arguments in Jeffrey M. Miller, et al. v. Junior Achievement, et al., 49A02-1211-PL-898.

At the center of the hearing is whether the Star must reveal the identity of a commenter whose screen name on Indystar.com was DownWithTheColts.

Barnes & Thornburg partner Jan Carroll argued for the Star that the newspaper wasn’t a party to the suit, and that a judge’s order requiring that it divulge a user’s name was a final judgment regarding its involvement in the case.   
 
“Once the bell is rung, it can’t be unrung,” she said. She argued that evidence at the trial court suggested that Miller wasn’t harmed by the comments and that there were larger issues at stake.

“Here we have an important constitutional issue,” Carroll said. “We are here because the Star is in the First Amendment business” and has an obligation and interest to preserve anonymous speech.

Miller’s attorney, Betz & Blevins partner Kevin Betz, argued that the Star was attempting to carve out legal paths to appeals that didn’t comport with rules and that following its strategy would “open up endless appeals.”

Betz said the Star had lost immunity from the Shield Law, that evidence presented at the trial court did establish a presumption of defamation, and that the Star’s appeal was untimely.

On the nature of DownWithTheColts’ online comments, he said, “It’s illegal speech that we want to chill.”

Judges Elaine Brown, Rudolph R. Pyle III and Presiding Judge Edward Najam focused their questions on appellate procedure and how the Star should be considered in applying party and nonparty rules.

Najam said at the close of arguments that the Nov. 16 order staying the trial court order compelling the Star to identify the commenter will continue pending further order of the court.

Miller, former CEO of Junior Achievement of Indiana, sued multiple parties for defamation and sought to add people who made anonymous comments on news organization websites that ran stories about Miller and Junior Achievement. 

The Court of Appeals in February reversed Marion Superior Judge S.K. Reid, who issued an order in 2011 that the news outlets must identify people who posted comments on their websites. The Star appealed whether it had to provide Miller information to help him identify an anonymous commenter. The appellate court ordered the trial court to apply a modified version of the Dendrite test, which comes from New Jersey, under both the federal and state constitutions to determine if Miller satisfied the requirements for obtaining the commenter’s identity. 

The trial court again ordered the newspaper to disclose the commenter’s identity in October.

 

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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