N.J. judge: Blogger isn’t protected by state shield law

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

FREEHOLD, N.J. — Protections given to journalists in New Jersey do not apply to people who post online, a judge has ruled.

Too Much Media, a Freehold-based firm, is seeking to force Shellee Hale of Washington state to reveal her sources for message-board posts she made claiming the company’s customer information was compromised last year. The firm, which provides software used by pornographic sites, denies customer information was breached.

Hale has argued that she's protected from revealing her sources by shield laws for journalists.

However, Superior Court Judge Louis Locascio rejected that claim on July 2, saying Hale’s posts were nothing more than the rants of “private person with unexplained motives for her postings” and cannot be given the same protections as information compiled though the process of newsgathering.

Locascio’s ruling means that Hale can be sued for libel.

The Star-Ledger of New Jersey reported that Locascio wrote in his 19-page opinion: “The rate at which the internet has grown and evolved into a universal source of news and information has left the legal community in its dust.”

“The time has come for the law to begin establishing its place in this vast abyss.”

The newspaper quoted the opinion as saying: “Courts are now being faced with the task of evaluating a virtually limitless number of people who claim to be 'reporting' on issues, but who are, many times, doing little more than shouting from atop a digital soapbox. … When New Jersey's Legislature enacted the shield law, it could not have anticipated the instantaneity with which people can now transmit information.”

Thomas Cafferty, New Jersey Press Association counsel, told The Star Ledger that he “was not surprised by Locascio's ruling because New Jersey's shield law specifically applies to those affiliated with the news media.”

“Even though our courts have liberally construed the shield law, it clearly was not intended to apply to any person communicating to another person,” the newspaper quoted Cafferty as saying. “To say that means everyone is protected by the privilege.”

Hale's attorney, Jeffrey Pollock, said he was disappointed with the decision and would likely either appeal or ask the judge to reconsider the ruling.