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Appeals Court Rules Blogger Protected by 1st Amendment Rights

A defamation award against a blogger was overturned via a unanimous vote by a federal appeals court on Friday, according to The Los Angeles Times. The court ruled that those who post on the internet are afforded the same 1st Amendment rights that protect the traditional news media.

“The protections of the 1st Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities,”  Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz wrote. Judge Hurwitz sat on a three-judge panel to hear the case at the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The blogger in question, Crystal Cox, accused Obsidian Finance Group of fraud, corruption and other forms of misconduct. The case was filed by the firm and one of its principals, Kevin D. Padrick.

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“Cox apparently has a history of making similar allegations and seeking payoffs in exchange for retraction,” the court said.

All of the posts made by Cox were ruled constitutionally protected except for one by a district court in Oregon. The judge permitted one of the posts go to trial. This post, which accused Padrick of failing to pay taxes for a company that filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is the one that can go to trial.

At trial, Cox represented herself. The jury awarded the firm and Padrick $2.5 million in damages because of what she wrote online. Cox appealed the ruling, but only argued that she could not be held liable unless the court can prove that her posts were written with negligence. She did not argue the fact that the posts were false and caused damage to the firm’s reputations.

During the appeals process, the 9th Circuit Court said that the jury should have been told to figure out if Cox acted negligently since the posts were part of public issues. The appeals court also said that the jury does not have the power to award money for unproven harm to the plaintiffs. This could only happen if malice was found.

“This case is the first one from a federal court of appeals that specifically protects the rights of bloggers,” said UCLA constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh. Volokh was Cox’s attorney for the appeal without charging a fee.

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