Verdict stands against blogger in firing at U

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2011 - 10:56 PM

Jury had ruled post caused dismissal at U even though truthful.

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John Hoff called Monday’s judgment against him “a dark day for the First Amendment.”

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A jury's $60,000 verdict against Minneapolis blogger John "Johnny Northside" Hoff for a posting that got a man fired will stand, a Hennepin County judge has ordered.

In a nine-page ruling, District Judge Denise Reilly wrote that ex-community leader Jerry Moore provided "direct and circumstantial evidence" to support the jury's verdict that a blog post by Hoff led to his termination by the University of Minnesota.

Hoff "acknowledged that it was his goal to get [Moore] fired and that he was working 'behind the scenes' to do so," Reilly wrote. "After the fact, [Hoff] took personal responsibility for [Moore's] termination and announced his ongoing, active involvement in the University's actions."

The case has drawn the attention of numerous free-speech advocates, including the Society of Professional Journalists, which filed a brief in support of Hoff.

Hoff, who learned of the order on Monday, called it "a dark day for the First Amendment."

"I didn't think it would go this way," he said. "I'm shocked."

The jury ruled last March that Hoff's scathing blog post amounted to actively interfering with Moore's job at the U, even though Hoff's statements were true when he linked Moore to high-profile mortgage fraud.

The jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress. Hoff sought to overturn the verdict or get a new trial. Reilly denied both efforts.

Hoff's attorney, Paul Godfread, said an appeal was planned. Hoff, who is on leave from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, is likely to be eligible for a postponement of payments pending the appeal.

Moore, former executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, was hired in early 2009 at the U's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center to study mortgage foreclosures.

When Hoff found out about the hire, he wrote a post accusing Moore of being involved in a "high-profile fraudulent mortgage" that was one of several resulting in a 16-year prison sentence for former real estate agent Larry Maxwell. Moore was not charged in that case.

Hoff took partial credit for Moore's firing in a later blog post, to which Moore responded with his suit.

Blogger Don Allen was originally named as a co-defendant in the case because he sent an e-mail to the U urging Moore's firing, then copied the e-mail to Hoff's blog. Allen settled with Moore and testified against Hoff.

Moore's attorney, Jill Clark, said they were pleased with the verdict, one that she said many critics didn't understand.

"There were an awful lot of people commenting on the trial that hadn't attended the trial," she said. "I'm a very staunch supporter of the First Amendment, but if the notion that you can't have your words used against you were true, no one would ever be held liable criminally or civilly, and Hoff's words showed his motivation.

"When he bragged in his blog, 'We got him fired,' that shows intent."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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