Free Speech

This Week in Free Speech

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In addition to the free speech story I mentioned in today's Morning Links, here's a story that's even more troubling, even though it's a civil case:

A Minnesota blogger has been ordered to pay $60,000 in damages for writing about links between a public figure and a high-profile mortgage fraud.

But according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune article linked above, the post that got the blogger in trouble was entirely true. So this wasn't a libel case. Instead, it was a "tortious interference" tort, brought because the blogger's reporting got the guy fired from his job with the University of Minnesota.

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  1. If the blogger was a “professional journalist” (scare quotes because I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a journalist license or some similar press credentials) would this be different? Further mingling of state sanctioned journalism?

  2. So “hurt feelings” lawyers are the new ambulance chasers?

    1. “sticks and stones” = violent, eliminationist rhetoric

    2. Read it again – it was not a libel or emotional distress case. It was a tortious interference claim.

      And it was total bullshit. If I were the defendant, I’d spend my $60K on appealing and overturning the verdict rather than let that creep see a single dollar.

  3. Man faces 15-year prison term for urging online strangers to commit suicide. Yes, he’s an asshole. No, he shouldn’t go to prison.

    This is a case of liability based on soliciting another to commit a crime. One of the more famous cases under this theory involved Cheryl Ann Araujo, which later became the movie “the Accused.”

    In that case, three men committed the physical rape, but six people were tried. the three men not physically involved were tried for soliciting the rape, i.e., by cheering on the rape, they were liable for the crime. I think only one defendant was convicted under this theory.

    Suicide is a crime (whether you wish it to be or not). Does this guy not deserve a conviction because (1) suicide should be legal or (2) solicitation liability is wrong or (3) solicitation liability is okay, except when applied to suicide?

    1. Suicide should be a capital crime. The state gets to punish somebody for no good reason, and the incompetent pre-decedent gets the work done by a professional for free. Win-win.

      1. Wouldn’t that crime be more properly termed “attempted suicide”?

    2. I think the crime of solicitation should contain some element either of coercion or inducement.

      In other words, a parent can commit solicitation if they ask their child to commit a crime, because there’s a presumption that a child will listen to a parent’s instructions.

      In this case, there’s no coercion or inducement. Essentially the guy offered his opinion that suicide is a good idea, and a good response to the personal situations of his correspondents, and nothing else.

      If I was having a conversation with a terminally ill person, and they said they were considering suicide, and I said, “You know, you’re right. You deserve that option, and that’s completely I would do in your situation,” I don’t see that criminal liability should attach to that offering of opinion.

  4. I don’t think the judgement should stand. If it does, UofM should pay it since he did their due diligence for them, but there seems to be a double standard to whistleblowing on pubsec employees.

  5. Instead, it was a “tortious interference” tort, brought because the blogger’s reporting got the guy fired from his job with the University of Minnesota.

    Laws vary, of course, but tortious interference usually requires some wrongdoing. Publishing the truth doesn’t strike me as wrongdoing, even if it gets someone fired.

    Ah, here we go, MN law:

    To prove tortious interference with contract, a plaintiff must show: (1) the existence of a contract; (2) defendant’s knowledge of the contract; (3) defendant’s intentional procurement of a breach of the contract; (4) absence of justification; and (5) damages caused by the breach. Kjesbo v. Ricks, 517 N.W.2d 585, 588 (Minn. 1994).

    I don’t see elements three and four, based on what is posted above. The blogger didn’t “procure” a breach, and publishing the truth should be its own justification.

    1. Without the bad conduct, this application of the law appears to be an action against protected speech. Sounds like a good federal case to me. Could get the whole law tossed out if this is a common result, as it could be viewed as having a chilling effect on protected speech.

      No idea if there are other facts that make this less a speech matter.

    2. “Laws vary, of course, but tortious interference usually requires some wrongdoing. Publishing the truth doesn’t strike me as wrongdoing, even if it gets someone fired”

      This.

      And Johnny Northside said he’s willing to take it all the way to the SCOTUS.

      Also, no hat-tip to Fluffy?

  6. Anyone on the side of the plaintiff, ought to a) be ashamed of themselves and b) be tossed into a pit of rabid Pomeranians.

  7. Hoff should sue this guy just for the fuck of it:

    http://misadventuresofjohnnyno…..gspot.com/

    1. @ Mr. FIFY:
      Since I am “this guy” as you put it, what exactly would you suggest he sue me for? The content I post on that site about the Defendant, John Hoff is factual information that is available to the public. I provide sources and/or links any time I post information that is not opinion.
      Perhaps if you read the following post, http://misadventuresofjohnnyno…..-hoff.html you may form a different opinion.
      Or listen to part of a phone call between John and I (http://mplsmirror.com/mpls/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=812:blogosphere-trial-of-the-centuryhow-hoff-operates-behind-the-scene&catid=49:quick-notes-and-observations&Itemid=174 )where you will hear John make several threats of using online intimidation.

      Shifting to the Moore V. Hoff case… The original complaint included Defamation AND Tortious Interference. The jury ruled there was no Defamation as what Hoff wrote was not a lie. Hoff did leave out the details of Moore’s involvement in a property deal where two other people were charged and convicted of fraud. Moore’s involvement was that he was a consultant for the seller (also not charged in the case) and that was it. Moore was not charged with any wrongdoing BUT, Hoff technicaly was not telling a lie when he stated that Moore was involved in a deal where fraud was comitted by the buyers.

      The reason the jury awarded the $60,000 to the Plaintiff was because, all seven jurors were convinced that Hoff’s interference with Moore’s job caused him to be fired. I would guess what convinced the jury that Hoff had done that was the result of Hoff taking partial credit for the firing soon after on his blog. I am told that he confirmed his blog comments when he was on the witness stand in the trial.

      I agree that he has a right to free speech. Hoff is now soliciting the public for funds to defend the first amendment so, he can appeal the ruling but, I am not certain the ruling will be reversed because, the jury ruled against Hoff because he set out to get Moore fired.

      An interesting side note: Hoff holds a degree in Law but, has not taken the Bar exam since he graduated in 2008. He is obviously an educated person but, since he has nothing to lose (he filed In Forma Pauperis so his court costs were waived), the media frenzy that has come from this case is exactly what he had hoped for. Sure enough, he has put the focus on the free speech issue when thats not the reason the jury ruled against him.

  8. “tortious interference”

    What? Seriously – WHAT? They’re just makin’ up shit now…

    Well at least he didn’t engage in “lethal advocacy”.

    1. Nah, tortious interference has been around for a while. The essence of the claim is that a third party blew up a good deal that you and another party had going on, just to screw you over for no good reason. The idea being that the guy acted purposely to cause you damages – to cause you to lose the benefit of the contractual bargain you had struck, by causing the other party to cancel the deal on you.

      1. Ahh – thank you! I would call that “interference with the contract of another” or something like that…probably why I’m not a lawyer, among other reasons…:)

  9. What a scary fucking country. You just never know what will get you thrown in jail or fined thousands of dollars. This, whether you actually committed a crime or not. They will either invent a retroactive crime or twist the law to mean what they want it to mean. Better not to do or say anything. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

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