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Somerville LiveJournal user, editor sued by guy whose name appeared in local police blotter

Our own Ron Newman, a longtime participant in the Davis Square LiveJournal community, reports that he, former Somerville Journal editor Deb Filcman and 100 "John and Jane Does" are being sued for more than $5 million for libel by Turbine founder Johnny Monsarrat. At issue: A lengthy LiveJournal discussion and a couple of Wicked Local blog posts about Monsarrat's arrest after a wild party, along with other online discussions about Monsarrat.

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And now Ken at Popehat has reached out to Ron. JonMon has no idea what he's in for. This has the potential to be awesome.

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Two of my favorite websites colliding. I'll never get any work done.

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Paging Barbra Streisand. Paging Barbra Streisand.

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For being a 40-something man who was throwing a booze party for teenagers.

Swell. http://www.wickedlocal.com/somerville/news/x187807...

So ... maybe he needs to get a clue and grow up.

Hard to sue for libel, etc. when you were, you know, actually arrested and all these people did was discuss the police record of events. I'm surprised he isn't suing the police, too.

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in hosting the drinking party, his lawsuit raises a vaild quetion.

If a person is considered innocent until proven guilty, then why isn't their identity shielded until the're actually found guilty of the crime?

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Because an arrest and criminal charge is a matter of public record.

Even if a person is found not guilty or charges are dropped, the fact remains - and forever remains - that on XX date, person YY was arrested and charged by poice for ZZ. That isn't a judgement on guilt or innocense, it just is a statement of fact.

I'll freely admit that it would suck to have my name linked to an arrest that yielded no conviction. However, I believe the alternative of police making arrests on annonymous people would end up being much worse in the long term.

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are indeed a matter of public record, then care to explain the "name not released because of age" disclaimer we see all too often.

The oft heard "justification" for this practice is that we want to protect the "juvenile" suspect from possible future problems (like losing or being denied jobs, etc)just in case they are cleared of the charges?

Shouldn't we extend that protection to all suspects, regardless of age?

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I believe the justification for withholding a juvenile offenders name has more to do with consistency of process.

If a juvenile is charged with a crime, the trial and subsequent punishment are meted out in a juvenile court, which is a closed proceeding, save for the prosecution, offender, and the offenders parents/legal guardians. The theory being that a juvenile's mind and mores aren't fully developped and thus they might commit a criminal act as a 13 or 14-year-old that they might consider to be repugnant as a 20-year-old.

Even in the case where the juvenile is convicted, in most jurisdictions, those records are expunged once the sentence has been considered successfully completed and if no further criminal acts have been committed.

With an adult offender, there is an entire littany of proceedings that follow the arrest, which all occur in the open. You could pick out any random arrest in the local newspaper and - if you so choose - go to every subsequent court hearing and trial and follow the case. The arraignment, preliminary hearings, trial, conviction, sentence, dismissal, all happen in a public forum, all of which is recorded as a matter of public record. It's next to impossible to arrest someone anonymously and then hold a littany of public court proceedings relating to their arrest.

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Guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial. In 2010, a woman convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill her husband got a new trial because the judge in the case barred people from the courtroom during jury selection (because the courtroom was too small).

I'm no constitutional scholar (or any kind of scholar, really), but I suspect this was added as a reaction to English star chambers and the like.

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knows his history!

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... and reasonable assumption of diminished responsibility due to age.

A reverse lookup will likely find the homeowner and often adult residents (I just looked my address up, it had the previous residents and my husband, but not me or my daughter). It won't find children.

Shouldn't we extend that protection to all suspects, regardless of age?

Nope. I'd rather know what my police are doing. Secret arrests would defeat that purpose quickly; if my neighbor gets in another fight with his stepson, I'd rather that it be published in WickelLocal than have them both disappeared to Gitmo.

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Say my neighbor's kid is charged as a suspect in break-ins that have been occurring in my neighborhood. By your argument, I should be able to have access to relevant information (suspect's identity) that's part of the public record. The suspect's age is totally irrelevant.

Now, any claim of "diminished responsibility" might be a logical defense when and if a case goes to trial. However, the claim is just that - a defense, not an excuse to evade responsibility for one's actions. As such, it shouldn't give a suspect a free pass on facing the other consequences of being named a suspect.

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... which is accessible to everyone.

Also, inevitable discovery; you can do reverse lookups on addresses to find out who lives there. JonMon had been quite public about his location (the Wheel thang), so looking in any of the Somerville press would have turned up his name associated with his address.

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laid when they throw parties. I guess someone doesn't like being made to look like the insecure asshole I perceive him to be.

Of course that would be my opinion and if some tech moron with clear insecurity issues and an inflated sense of importance wants to sue me, good luck. All you'll get is a 2007 Yaris and my CD collection.

Wotta douche!

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that the Defendant John Doe #58, aka dvdoff, aka ____________, didst level the following scurrilous accusation against the Plaintiff on May the First, 2013: "Wotta douche!" Over the next several weeks I intend to show, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that although Mr. Monsaratt may be a lot of things, he is not in fact a feminine hygiene product of any kind. Hence the Defendant should pay poor Mr. Monserrat six billion dollars for his pain and suffering, plus eight billion in legal fees. Forthwith.

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I just went back and re-read the original LJ post, and now my brains are leaking out of my ears.

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"... and I was anticipating reverie."

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Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives protection from defamation claims associated with anonymous comments. Quoting from the Electronic Frontier Foundation website:

"…Your readers' comments, entries written by guest bloggers, tips sent by email, and information provided to you through an RSS feed would all likely be considered information provided by another content provider. This would mean that you would not be held liable for defamatory statements contained in it…"

The EFF page adds, "[Section 230] does not apply to federal criminal law, intellectual property law, and electronic communications privacy law."

The Citizen's Media Law project contains additional information about Section 230 and blogging:

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act grants interactive online services of all types, including blogs, forums, and listservs, broad immunity from tort liability so long as the information at issue is provided by a third party. Relatively few court decisions, however, have analyzed the scope of this immunity in the context of "mixed content" that is created jointly by the operator of the interactive service and a third party through significant editing of content or the shaping of content by submission forms and drop-downs.

So what are the practical things you can take away from this guide? Here are five:

  1. If you passively host third-party content, you will be fully protected under Section 230.
  2. If you exercise traditional editorial functions over user submitted content, such as deciding whether to publish, remove, or edit material, you will not lose your immunity unless your edits materially alter the meaning of the content.
  3. If you pre-screen objectionable content or correct, edit, or remove content, you will not lose your immunity.
  4. If you encourage or pay third-parties to create or submit content, you will not lose your immunity.
  5. If you use drop-down forms or multiple-choice questionnaires, you should be cautious of allowing users to submit information through these forms that might be deemed illegal.

Note that there are some exceptions and scenarios where the law is not so clear. In addition, I have heard an expert in this type of law advise either taking down offending comments or starting a dialogue with the person complaining to head off legal disputes. His reasoning: Is it really worth dealing with the hassle and cost of having to hire a lawyer to bring up Section 230 in front of a judge in order to get the case dismissed?

If you want to fight the good fight and can't get a lawyer to take it on pro bono, you could start a legal fund. I think a lot of local people who value free speech would be willing to pitch in.

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This isn't really about the money, but about Mr. Monserrat trying to cover up public opinion about his behavior. He really just wants the posts deleted.

Really, he should have brought the suit to LiveJournal. They probably would have done it.

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Section 230 protects forum owners/moderators from libel charges following from statements submitted by their users. It does not protect forum owner/moderators from libel charges stemming from their own statements.

The complaint against Ron charges both.

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I wasn't aware of these accusations before this lawsuit, and now I am! Well done!

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#1 The internet is forever
#2 The more attention you give something, the more attention it attracts

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This is one of those places where federal law functions perfectly: a valid defense to an accusation of libel is to say that you were telling (or thought in good faith that you were telling) the truth. If it's true, it categorically isn't libelous. Which means it is incumbent on Mr. Monsarrat to *prove* that Newman and Filcman were intentionally spreading scurrilous untruths about him to sully his good name. All the defense has to do is point out the public records provided by the Somerville police.

As an even better prospect, cases like this that make it to trial tend to produce the most entertaining judgements you'll ever see, since trial judges also know this is spurious bullshit trying to shut down legitimate journalism, and tend to be... let's call it "unkind" to plaintiffs who try to stifle first amendment journalism rights.

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Which means it is incumbent on Mr. Monsarrat to *prove* that Newman and Filcman were intentionally spreading scurrilous untruths about him to sully his good name.

No, actually. All he has to do is list any comments he says are false, and the onus is on Ron and Filcman to prove that they're true.

The standards for civil and criminal courts are different, friend. Onus is on the defendant to disprove, in civil court.

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... since the fact that JonMon was arrested for hosting a house party with underage attendees is widely available in public records, as is the Somerville Journal article, as are the Somerville Police reports.

People are allowed to express their opinions, even of unconvicted arrestees. People are allowed to link to articles published elsewhere as attribution, to substantiate their opinions. That is not libel. JonMon is required to demonstrate that Newman, Filcman, and the 100 "john/jane does" made false assertions about him, which from the original LJ discussion I read at the time, he's not going to be able to do.

JonMon's also going to have to demonstrate actual damage resulting from the LJ discussion, which is also going to require a substantial burden of proof. Someone would have to testify that they didn't give him a job for which he was otherwise the leading candidate because of the LiveJournal discussion. Not for the actual arrest in Somerville, and not for his stalking arrest in Rhode Island, for instance.

I'm not even a lawyer, but I've been threatened by [now defunct company] for an absolutely true comment I made on a Boston.com message board. My attorney schooled me on how to reply to threats of libel suits, and I'm pretty clear on what's going to happen when Ron&Co get in front of a judge.

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He should be compensated for any legal costs, lost work, or other expenses that arise from having to deal with this bullshit since he has no responsibility to the actual claims in the lawsuit (partly because wasn't he was misidentified by the plaintiff as some kind of moderator that he isn't?).

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ron is a moderator, he just isn't the moderator of davis_snark, a different live journal

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Given that this guy has a long and storied history with many, many women and communities, and given that you're extremely well respected and loved, I'm 100% sure this will all work out. After reading his complaint I'm certain he's paying an attorney out of pocket, rather than via contingency, and the dude doesn't exactly have the deepest of pockets. There are also some absurdly frivolous things in there. Please do just say something if you need help. You've rallied the community many times, we'd be happy to rally for you.

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I had no idea who this man was, nor had I ever heard of the allegations against him, before I read this post on UHub. Naturally I clicked through to all the links and now I'm aware of everything that was said back in 2010. And I can imagine what will happen when the big media -- and the Internet gossip mill -- get to this story.

I mean, if this guy was worried about any negative impact that the Live Journal stories may have had about his reputation, he should just have remained silent. Now he's succeeded in reminding everyone of those old allegations, and of publicizing them far and wide...

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Does that mean this UHub comment thread will become the next lawsuit target? ;-)

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Stories like this are one of many reasons I prefer my anonymity on the internet.

And I have to honestly say there are some real doozies posting with user names lately.

Not like the level of discourse skyrockets just b/c someone creates an account.

Thanks.

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But it does let you know who to ignore, and who is just trolling, or who is trying to contribute.

The internet is a bunch of links, and having a handle allows us to connect trains of thought through threads, much like the way linking works.

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It's funny, I follow DSLJ because it's useful to learn about my community. I don't think Ron did anything wrong legally, that being said Ron certainly doesn't help himself by inserting himself into everything, and I mean everything, Davis Square related like some sort of self appointed mayor/dictator of davis square. I just wish the legal system wasn't involved with any of these people.

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I like how the header is hand written!

Very professional!

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