Society of Professional Journalists says a judgment against John Hoff, aka "Johnny Northside," could affect all reporters.
A journalists' organization is backing Minneapolis blogger "Johnny Northside" Hoff's effort to overturn a jury's verdict that he pay $60,000 in damages for posting scathing online comments that got an ex-community leader fired.
The Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists asked this week to have its "friend of the court" brief considered when Hennepin County District Judge Denise Reilly considers whether to throw out the jury's March 11 verdict in favor of Jerry Moore.
SPJ-MN attorneys argue that the 100-year-old organization representing print and broadcast journalists has a public interest in the case because the jury's verdict suggests that journalists or anyone else could be held liable for truthful statements they post online. Such a standard "could impair the free flow of information and vigorous debate on public issues," the organization argued.
The organization has a "significant continuing interest in ensuring that Minnesota courts at every level do not apply such a rule," the brief said.
The jury's verdict noted that although Hoff truthfully blogged that Moore was linked to a fraudulent mortgage in the city's North Side, the blog post interfered with Moore's employment at the University of Minnesota.
The U fired Moore the day after the post went online. The jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress.
Hoff's blog, "The Adventures of Johnny Northside," focuses on north Minneapolis and has hundreds of readers daily.
The journalists' organization argues that the court should apply the same rules to online statements as it would to printed statements.
The case has garnered attention from media legal experts, some of whom said the verdict likely will not survive appeal. Hoff said Friday that he is "honored and humbled" that SPJ stood to defend him, even before his own attorney filed a brief contesting the verdict.
"I think they realize bloggers and mainstream journalists are all part of the same media ecosystem, and an injury to one is an injury to all," he wrote in an e-mail. "If we can't tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may, how do we even HAVE a First Amendment in this country?"
Moore's attorney, Jill Clark, did not respond to a request for comment.
SPJ-MN President Sarah Bauer said the organization's board agreed that Hoff's case "was an important issue to support."
She said, "I think when you look at the implications of what a decision like that means to our entire journalism community, the decision ... was not a difficult one."
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