New Jersey Supreme Court Will Webcast Argument Over Blogger’s Free-Speech Rights

New Jersey Supremes Will Interpret News-Shield Law

New Jersey Supremes Will Interpret News-Shield Law

January 31, 2011

The long-running lawsuit between John Albright and Too Much Media v. Shellee Hale over whether Hale is immune from liability for defamation under the New Jersey Newsperson’s Shield Law has hit the New Jersey Supreme Court and will be webcast tomorrow at 10 am EST.

Here’s the link to the webcast: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/webcast/webcast.htm

Hale is represented by Jeff Pollock, a prominent 1st Amendment lawyer whose father was himself a New Jersey Supreme Court Justice.  Hale started her legal odyssey as a Seattle-area mom who became curious about the online porn industry (bitten by the legal bug, she has now acquired a license as a private-investigator).  Hale found herself in legal hot water after she started blogging about the consumer-unfriendly behavior of the online porn industry.  Sued by Too Much Media and its owner John Albright in a New Jersey libel lawsuit,  Hale — who claims her blogging activity was privileged under the New Jersey Newsperson’s Shield Law — is about to get a hearing on her argument from the state’s highest court.

Hale’s troubles started back in August 2006, when an unhappy user of TMM’s “affiliate-program tracking software,” sued TMM for cutting off service, allegedly causing the collapse of the user’s company. Hale, who was studying the grey areas of the adult industry, found the New Jersey lawsuit fertile ground for online discussion, and posted about it on her now-defunct Pornafia.com blogsite.  While one can imagine a jury enjoying a good laugh at the notion that someone who services the porn industry could actually be “defamed,” TMM,  Albright, and his partner Charles Berrebbi claimed they’d lost status in “the industry,” and, effectively, cried all night.  Their attorney Joel Kreizman, himself a New Jersey judge, made the Seattle blogger the target of a New Jersey lawsuit, and demanded that she give her deposition and disclose the identity of her sources.

With Pollock representing Hale, she objected to appearing at the deposition, refused to disclose her sources, and claimed immunity from suit.  But in a June 30, 2009 trial court ruling, the trial judge held that Hale wasn’t entitled to assert the Newsperson’s privilege and ordered her to attend her deposition.

Pollock appealed, but was unsuccessful in his effort to overturn the trial court ruling. He is now taking his third run at the issue, and if he wins, bloggers will enjoy greater protection from libel laws, at least in the great state of New Jersey … a trend that would likely spread … so for lovers of freedom of speech, this is one to tune in to. If the New Jersey justices lay it straight over the plate, I’m betting Pollock is going to knock out the lights.