Decisions Roundup: Media Shield Law Protects Anonymous Comments Posted On Newspaper WebsiteWed Sep 10, 2008 @ 03:38PM PST
Case: Russ Doty v. Brad Molnar
Court: Montana District Court
Date: Sept. 3, 2008
Facts: Russ Doty, a 2004 candidate for the Public Service Commission in Montana, sued Brad Molnar, his competitor in the election. Doty claimed that during the election, Molnar had libeled him. As part of his lawsuit, Doty attempted to issue a subpoena on the local newspaper, The Billings Gazette, whose message boards contained anonymous commentary that was damaging to Doty. Molnar hoped that the IP addresses, e-mail addresses, and other identity and contact information held by the newspaper would lead him either to witnesses who could provide testimony or in proving that Molnar himself had posted the commentary. The newspaper put in a motion to quash the subpoena based on Montana's Media Confidentiality Act, protecting news organizations from having to disclose sources.
Holding: Judge Todd Baugh granted the motion by The Billings Gazette to quash the subpoena. The judge extended the state's media shield law to also protecting anonymous commentators on a newspaper's Web site. The judge also ruled that the information sought wasn't relevant to the case.