Blogger Crystal Cox
A U.S. District Court judge in Portland has drawn a line in the sand between "journalist" and "blogger." And for Crystal Cox, a woman on the latter end of that comparison, the distinction has cost her $2.5 million.
Blogger Crystal Cox
"This should matter to everyone who writes on the Internet," she says.
Cox runs several law-centric blogs, like industrywhistleblower.com, judicialhellhole.com, and obsidianfinancesucks.com, and was sued by investment firm Obsidian Finance Group in January for defamation, to the tune of $10 million, for writing several blog posts that were highly critical of the firm and its co-founder Kevin Padrick.
Representing herself in court, Cox had argued that her writing was a mixture of facts, commentary and opinion (like a million other blogs on the web) and moved to have the case dismissed. Dismissed it wasn't, however, and after throwing out all but one of the blog posts cited by Obsidian Financial, the judge ruled that this single post was indeed defamatory because it was presented, essentially, as more factual in tone than her other posts, and therefore a reasonable person could conclude it was factual.
The judge ruled against Cox on that post and awarded $2.5 million to the investment firm.
Now here's where the case gets more important: Cox argued in court that the reason her post was more factual was because she had an inside source that was leaking her information. And since Oregon is one of 40 U.S. states including Washington with media shield laws, Cox refused to divulge who her source was.
But without revealing her source Cox couldn't prove that the statements she'd made in her post were true and therefore not defamation, or attribute them to her source and transfer the liability.
Oregon's media shield law reads:
No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by ... a judicial officer ... to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise ... [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]
The judge in Cox's case, however, ruled that the woman did not qualify for shield-law protection not because of anything she wrote, but because she wasn't employed by an official media establishment.
From the opinion by U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez:
. . . although defendant is a self-proclaimed "investigative blogger" and defines herself as "media," the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law
Cox tells Seattle Weekly that she plans to appeal the ruling by proving her assertion that Obsidian co-founder Kevin Padrick is guilty of bankruptcy fraud--a statement that, as Cox is quite proud of, is abundantly advertised if one simply Googles Padrick's name and sees the dozens of Cox's posts that spring up about him.
At this point Cox says that she still has no plans to get a lawyer.
We think that's a bad idea.
UPDATE: Attorney Bruce E. H. Johnson, the man who wrote the media shield laws in Washington state, has weighed in on whether Cox's fate would fly here. Read more here.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin Padrick, the defamed co-founder of Obsidian Finance Group, has responded to the story. Read more here.
Read the full opinion below: