But It’s True!

One of the clichés in the legal world that is actually true most of the time is that “truth is a defense.” And it reflects an underlying policy that truthful speech – even if it hurts – is okay. But a recent jury verdict from Minnesota suggests otherwise. A jury recently handed down a $60,000 verdict against blogger Johnny Northside based on posts that Northside had put up noting that a University of Minnesota employer named Jerry Moore had been involved in a “high profile mortgage fraud.” Moore claimed the blog posts cost him his job and a jury agreed. But by all accounts, the statement about Moore’s involvement was true and based on public records. And the jury didn’t find that Northside committed libel, only that he’d “tortiously interfered” with Moore’s job. It seems as though part of Northside’s problem was the apparent glee he expressed on his blog over his part in getting Moore booted. But the question that the court of appeals will most likely have to address (at this point, Northside has not filed an appeal, but it’s likely he will) is whether a blogger can be liable for posting true, publicly available information. The First Amendment ought to protect true speech, no matter how damaging the information, or how big a jerk the messenger is (see the Westboro Baptist Church decision). And that’s especially the case when it involves a public official, no matter what you call your claim. I’m not sure Mr. Moore should spend all of that $60,000 just yet.