COVINGTON -- Attorney David Hudson has moved to stop the subpoena seeking information identifying individuals who negatively commented about the Alcovy High School principal on the Newton Citizen website.
Hudson, the attorney for the Georgia Press Association, filed a motion Tuesday in Newton County Superior Court to quash a subpoena issued against the Newton Citizen newspaper and its editor Alice Queen and to issue a protective order.
Attorney Stephanie Lindsey filed a lawsuit April 25 against 11 "John Does" who commented about Dr. LaQuanda Brown Carpenter, principal of Alcovy High School, on the website. Carpenter is claiming defamation and libel for 11 comments posted between Feb. 10 and April 19, which she claims are false, intended to expose her to "hatred, contempt and/or ridicule" and made with reckless disregard for the truth.
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.
The motion objects to the subpoena for the newspaper and Queen's deposition and production of documents.
In the motion, Hudson says that the request for documents is invalid because of the qualified privilege for journalists against disclosing the information.
Additionally, he argues that in other states, courts have ruled in favor of protection for the anonymity of "speakers" on the Internet, and courts have extended free speech protections to the Internet. He asserts that a plaintiff cannot force the identification of an anonymous Internet speaker without showing a valid reason.
The motion states that the comments cited in the lawsuit are writers' opinions or criticisms of Carpenter and privileged under the First Amendment.
"Each instance where she alleged that she was defamed is nothing more than a statement of opinion which is protected from a claim of defamation," the motion reads. "Since each incidence of alleged libel does not rise to the level of a serious prima facie case for defamation against any of the anonymous sources, that is sufficient reason for quashing the subpoena."
In prior cases, courts have ruled that before the identity of an anonymous Internet speaker would be revealed, the plaintiff would have to give notification in order for the individual to appear and oppose being identified in response to the subpoena.
Hudson said Tuesday that it would be up to Carpenter to oppose the motion, and then a judge would decide the issue, and perhaps hold a hearing before doing so.