$10 million lawsuit against a blogger
U.S. District Court judge, Marco Hernandez in Portland ruled that there is a difference between a “blogger” and a “journalist,” according to Seattle Weekly. Crystal Cox, who pens several blogs (like obsidianfinancesucks.com and judicialhellhole.com), was recently sued for $10 million by investment firm Obsidian Finance Group for defamation for writing several times on her site, criticizing the firm and its co-founder Kevin Padrick. The judge handed down a $2.5 million judgment against Cox saying not all of her blog posts against Obsidian were defamatory, but that one specific blog post was defamatory as it was presented as more factual in tone than her other posts, therefore “a reasonable person could conclude it was factual.”
Cox who represented herself in court, said her writing was a mixture of facts, commentary and opinion, arguing that this specific blog post was more factual than others because for this single post, the had an inside source that was leaking information to her about alleged Padrick was involved in bankruptcy fraud.
Media shield law protections
According to court documents, Cox refused to divulge who her source for the blog post was, without which, she could not prove the statements she made in her blog post to show a judge it was fact, not defamating opinion, nor did she reveal her source which would transfer liability. The judge ruled she did not qualify for shield-law protection because she wasn’t employed by a media establishment.
Each state’s media shield law differs, but according to Seattle Weekly, Oregon’s says, “No person connected with, employed by or engaged in a medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … the source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public.”
The full opinion of Judge Hernandez is in full below, but the summation of why he ruled as such is that despite Cox claiming to be an “investigative blogger,” she also defines herself as “media” which conflicts, and she is not affiliated with a news outlet. She told Seattle Weekly that she will appeal the ruling when she proves her blog post to be true and plans to pursue the case without representation of a lawyer.
Cox will ultimately be given protection
Attorney Bruce E. H. Johnson wrote the media shield laws in Washington state, and has weighed in on the case, saying that bloggers are journalists under the law. It is likely that Cox lost because she was not represented by a lawyer. The tone of her various sites do not appear to be factual in nature, mostly using the first person and emoting as bloggers often do, adding YouTube videos of songs about America and Cher’s “You haven’t seen the last of me yet” to her site devoted to Obsidian which appears to personally provoke the co-founder.
Her blog site about Obsidian lacks any disclaimers or news policies, but Bruce Johnson believes strongly that Cox will ultimately be given protection under media shield laws which will likely be a landmark outcome for digital media.
Judge’s full opinion: