FREE SPEECH -- Patterson City Attorney George Logan has filed a libel lawsuit against an anonymous group of locals behind the Patterson IrriTator website, who refer to themselves collectively and individually as Fred Ross, reports Kendall Wright in the Patterson Irrigator.
Logan’s lawsuit, announced March 3 on the IrriTator Web site, claims that several comments left on the Patterson Irrigator newspaper’s Web site in 2009 by the anonymous authors, calling Logan a “joke” and asserting that he was “in the pocket” of developers, have damaged his professional reputation.
The lawsuit was filed with the Merced Superior Court in early January.
“We’re in the process of building a legal team to protect the identity of blog authors and commentators,” said an anonymous posting on the IrriTator Web site. “Many of you have fought passionately to seek ethical solutions to some of our community problems.
“We will do our best to prevent King George from stifling our speech.”
Logan said he will be using his personal time and money for the suit.
"I am from the old school that believes that people who call names should not hide
behind an alias," he wrote in an e-mail. "I want these people to stand up and be counted and to give the basis, if any, for their claims."
Any money he is rewarded from the suit will be donated to charity, he said.
Since its startup in 2008, the IrriTator has offered viewpoints and criticism about the city’s leadership — specifically in regard to City Council members — and the questions facing Patterson.
Some prominent local residents — such as youth organizer Sergio Cuellar and former City Council candidate Jeff Realini — have posted on the site using their names, but the other writers have chosen to remain anonymous.
“Personally, I think this is a scare tactic on his (Logan’s) part,” said Realini, who maintains that he has not been active on the site in six months. “I have my druthers that he doesn’t really have any ground to stand on with this, especially with him being a public figure.”
California Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel Jim Ewert also agreed that Logan might have a tough time convincing a judge that the authors intended to hurt his reputation with their comments.
Oftentimes, similar claims from public officials can be hard to prove, because they are viewed by judges as strategic lawsuits against public participation — often called S.L.A.P.P. suits — aimed at silencing people or groups because they have exercised their right to petition the government or speak out on public issues, Ewert said.
“I don’t see either of those statements as to be particularly provable, and I think that attorney (Logan) will have a long road to hoe on those claims,” Ewert said. “Quite frankly, he’s playing into the authors’ hands beautifully, because this lawsuit is going to give them what they want — free publicity.”