Anonymous no longer

Judge: Newspaper must provide information leading to identity of blog commenter

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COEUR d'ALENE - A judge on Tuesday ruled that the Spokesman-Review must give a local Republican leader information that could lead to the identity of an anonymous commenter who posted to one of the newspaper's blogs.

The former chair of the Kootenai County Republican Party Central Committee, Tina Jacobson, wants the name because she believes the person defamed her by suggesting she stole $10,000 from the local party.

The newspaper tried to quash Jacobson's subpoena for the information, but in a 24-page written ruling 1st District Court Judge John Luster decided she's entitled to it.

Jacobson's subpoena also sought the identity of two other anonymous commenters on the Spokesman-Review blog, Huckleberries Online. The newspaper doesn't have to provide identifying information for those two.

Jacobson believes the other two are witnesses to the alleged defamation on Feb. 14 by commenter "almostinnocentbystander."

All three made comments below a photograph posted to Huckleberries Online showing former presidential candidate Rick Santorum's visit to Coeur d'Alene. Jacobson could be seen in the background of the photograph.

Huckleberries Online is administered by longtime Spokesman-Review journalist Dave Oliveria, who deleted the comment about $10,000, but it had been visible for 2 1/2 hours.

Luster also ordered the newspaper to provide a document confirming that "almostinnocentbystander" has not been re-established as a commenter on Spokesman-Review blogs.

The ruling said the newspaper must provide to Jacobson a copy of any communication between the Spokesman-Review's employees and "almostinnocentbystander."

The other two commenters used the names "Phaedrus" and "OutofStaterTater" on the newspaper's website.

"Phaedrus" fired off a quick comment on Huckleberries Online after the ruling was filed: "So that's what happened? I was hoping to have a chance to tell Tina and her attorneys to kiss my bum. Ah well, another day, perhaps."

The newspaper has 14 days to comply with Luster's ruling.

"We're in the process of evaluating (the ruling)," said Cowles Publishing Co. and Spokesman-Review attorney Duane Swinton. "We'll make our minds up on what we're going to do after that."

On the Spokesman-Review's website Tuesday night, reporter Thomas Clouse quoted the newspaper's editor, Gary Graham, as saying he has not decided whether to pursue an appeal.

Jacobson's attorney, C. Matthew Andersen, said the ruling is the first step in clearing Jacobson's "good name."

"(The ruling) restates the long-standing legal rule that there is no constitutional protected speech that is defamatory," Andersen said.

He said Luster found Jacobson has shown evidence of "per se defamation and she would prevail on the record filed."

Asked what the plan is now, Andersen said, "The court's order is the court's order. Ms. Jacobson intends to proceed in accord with the judge's order."

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