COVINGTON -- The Newton Citizen has hired an attorney who will file a motion to quash the subpoena seeking the names and information of individuals who negatively commented about the Alcovy High School principal on the Newton Citizen website.
David Hudson, the attorney for the Georgia Press Association, will represent the Newton Citizen in fighting a subpoena in connection with a lawsuit filed by LaQuanda Brown Carpenter, principal of Alcovy High School.
Attorney Stephanie Lindsey filed a lawsuit Wednesday against 11 "John Does" who commented about Carpenter on the website. Carpenter is claiming defamation and libel.
The pseudonyms named as "John Does" in the lawsuit are MsLoy, bluedeyeddevil, avidreader, spdracer90, GwinnettTransplant, amp72, newtoncountyparent, watermelonlover, beautifulblueeyes, Satan69, and KBeet.
The lawsuit cites 11 comments posted on the website between Feb. 10 and April 19, claiming that the comments are false, intended to expose Carpenter to "hatred, contempt and/or ridicule" and made with reckless disregard for the truth.
The comments were generally critical of Carpenter's performance as principal and of the fact that her husband, Dennis Carpenter, is deputy superintendent for operations, overseeing human resources and other school system departments.
"As a public official, she would have to prove that someone knew (the posting) was a falsehood and they would not be able to pursue anything that is pure opinion," Hudson said.
The subpoena requests by May 4 all information and documents sufficient to identify the names, addresses and telephone numbers associated with those named in the lawsuit, as well as documents reproducing the texts of the comments from Jan. 1, 2011, to present and all server logs, IP address logs, account information, account access records and application or registration forms related to those named.
Hudson said a body of law has developed around the country related to the obligation of a website host to reveal the IP address owners.
"In cases where this information is subpoenaed, the newspapers and other website hosts do come in and file motions to quash a subpoena by contending that no valid case has been asserted by the plaintiff," Hudson said.
Hudson said there have been no other cases of this type in Georgia but several in state and federal courts around the country.
Additionally, he said that the federal Communications Decency Act states that if a business is merely the host of a website, it is not legally responsible for what someone else posts on the site.
Jeff Meadors, vice chair of the Newton County Board of Education and representative for District 1, which includes Alcovy High School, said since the lawsuit was filed, he has received an "overwhelming" amount of emails from past and present employees, including many with legal documents.
He said he reads each email and plans to respond. He also encouraged his constituents to attend his next public forum on finance and accountability, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 10 in the auditorium at Eastside High School. He said the location was chosen as a closer place for parents who worked outside of Newton County at their requests; in the past, he has held the forums at Alcovy High School.
"It is unfortunate when things like this distract us from the one goal that matters: student success," Meadors wrote in an email Monday. "As public leaders, we are all open to public scrutiny and commentary. Personally, I expect it and I grow from it. With new business and industry looking at Newton at the present, and with many unsung successes in more than 20 school buildings, it is my hope that we can redirect our eyes to the prize of student achievement. Situations like this do not promote educational and community prosperity or leadership that is helpful to Newton's workforce development."
When asked if NCSS would have to get involved in the lawsuit since Carpenter is an employee and the suit involves comments about her place of employment and her husband, NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews said, "All of this is very sad, to put it mildly. At this point, this matter will run its legal course as our laws demand whatever the outcome."
Editor Alice Queen contributed to this article.