N.J. Court: No Shield Law Protection for Blogger Shellee Hale

Apr 22, 2010 2:00 PM PST
NEW JERSEY — An appellate division judge has affirmed an earlier court ruling that the state’s shield law doesn’t apply to defendant Shellee Hale in her case with Too Much Media.

The judge also ruled that Too Much Media is entitled to proceed with its defamation lawsuit even though it can’t specifically prove monetary damages to the business.

“It’s almost a 100 percent win because the other side argued they’re entitled to shield protection, the court affirmed she is not.” Too Much Media attorney Joel Kreizman told XBIZ.

Kreizman said Hale, who is a mother of five and a blogger from Washington state, will now have to reveal her sources in an upcoming deposition.

The court documents affirm, “the mere claim that one is a journalist or reporter, is not enough to gain the protection of the shield law.”

Hale called herself a journalist when she was gathering information in 2009 about an internet security breach at TMM. Hale posted on a website that Too Much Media failed to inform customers of a security breach because she alleged it was making money off of it. The posts alleged that breached Too Much Media data could have given hackers access to names and addresses of account holders, which Too Much Media denies.

Hale also posted on an adult entertainment website message board accusing TMM principals of threatening her.

The court papers state, “such statements unquestionably have the capacity to injure plaintiff’s reputation or subject them to the ‘loss of good will and confidence’ in which they are held by others.”

Kreizman said that Hale was nothing more than an irresponsible member of the public posting libelous or slanderous comments on the message board.

The court agreed saying, “Internet postings, if defamatory, are considered libel. Unlike spoken words that evaporate, Internet postings have permanence, as the posts can remain on that particular site for an indefinite period and can be copied and forwarded.”

Hale’s attorney, Jeffrey Pollock, said that other courts have used a broader view to extend the shield protection to an editor gathering unsolicited letters, to an insurance industry trade publication and to a reality television show's video footage that was never aired or published.

“The decision that Shellee and her confidential sources are not protected by the newsperson's privilege is palpably incorrect, irrational and irreconcilable with the evidence presented," Pollock wrote.

The suit isn't the first filed against Hale over comments made on message boards. Montreal-based live-cam company 2Much Internet Services settled with Hale before that case went to trial.

"I am thrilled that the N.J. court has affirmed that Shellee Hale is not protected under that state's shield law," 2Much owner Mark Prince told XBIZ. "As someone with a casual interest in the media business, it is pleasing to see that the law is working to protect legitimate news reporters and bloggers and that its misuse will not be tolerated, especially when it comes to the wrongful defamation of strong, smart companies like our friends at TMM and the braniacs who work there. Congratulations to Jon and Charlie and kudos to them for continuing to fight this fight."

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