Idaho judge: Newspaper must provide details on anonymous commenter
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — A Washington newspaper must provide information that could identify an anonymous reader who typed a disparaging online comment about the chairwoman of the Kootenai County Republicans, an Idaho judge has ruled.
An attorney for Tina Jacobson subpoenaed the identities of three people who commented about Jacobson under assumed names on a Spokesman-Review blog.
Under the name “almostinnocentbystander,” one commenter questioned whether $10,000 reportedly missing from the Kootenai County Central Committee might be “stuffed inside Tina’s blouse.”
Idaho District Court Judge John Luster ruled on July 10 that the First Amendment does not protect defamatory speech.
He ordered the newspaper to provide information establishing the identity of “almostinnocentbystander.” But he also ruled the newspaper did not have to provide similar information for the other two readers because they did not make defamatory comments.
The Spokesman-Review is based in Spokane, Wash., and also circulates widely in nearby northern Idaho.
The two other commenters wrote under the names “Phaedrus” and “outofstatetater.”
The comments were deleted from Huckleberries Online after Spokesman-Review blogger Dave Oliveria discovered them, but the first post was visible for about 2 ½ hours.
In late April, Jacobson filed a lawsuit against “John and/or Jane Doe.” Her attorney, C. Matthew Andersen, subpoenaed the commenters’ names so the suit could proceed, and the newspaper responded with a motion to quash that request.
In a hearing last month, Jacobson’s attorney argued that the posts hurt his client’s reputation, and he sought to have the judge order the newspaper to provide identifying information about the people who made the comments.
The newspaper’s attorney, Duane Swinton, argued at the June hearing that the blouse comment “wasn’t nice” but that it was made on a blog site “where people express opinions, sometimes airing outrageous views.”
Gary Graham, editor of The Spokesman-Review, said he was disappointed with Luster’s decision but he had not yet decided whether the newspaper would pursue an appeal.
“However, we are glad the judge ruled that we don’t have to provide information about the two people who simply commented on the original posting,” Graham said.