Papers filed in court today say freedom of the press protects non-traditional journalists the same as newspaper and television reportersBuckingham County, VA – Three free speech organizations filed papers in court today arguing that an Albemarle County blogger has the same constitutional rights as a mainstream journalist and cannot be forced to release his notes or identify people who posted anonymously on his website. The blogger, Waldo Jaquith of Albemarle County, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Public Citizen and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
On his website, cvillenews.com, Jaquith wrote about a defamation lawsuit filed by local author and self-described Hollywood publicist Thomas Garrett against The Hook, a Charlottesville weekly magazine. Garrett then subpoenaed Jaquith, seeking identifying information for anyone who posted comments about or even looked at Jaquith’s blog entry, as well as any other documents in Jaquith’s possession related to the lawsuit.
“If this subpoena is allowed to stand, bloggers will have to look over their shoulders whenever they express their opinions on a pending lawsuit,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “The chilling effect on free speech on the Internet could be devastating.”
“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 TheNew York Times or the Toledo Blade, for that matter,” said Public Citizen attorney Paul Levy. “Bloggers such as Jaquith may not be ‘traditional’ journalists, but they play an integral part in the way people get their news today.”
Today’s 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,” said attorney Josh Wheeler of the Thomas Jefferson Center.
The brief also argues that commenters on Jaquith’s blog have a First Amendment right to post their opinions anonymously.
ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg represents Jaquith, along with Levy and Wheeler. To read the brief, go to http://www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/jaquith.pdf.
ACLU of Virginia: Rebecca K. Glenberg or Kent Willis (804) 644-8022 Public Citizen: Paul Alan Levy (202) 588-1000 Thomas Jefferson Center : Josh Wheeler (434) 295-4784