Blogger and Maryland Police Chief Settle Defamation Lawsuit

Last week, Salisbury, Maryland Police Chief Allan Webster and Joe Albero, operator of the Salisbury News blog, reached a settlement in Webster's defamation and false light lawsuit, just hours before the case was scheduled for trial. Albero reported on his blog that no money exchanged hands under the settlement, but the precise terms are not public. 

Webster filed the lawsuit in  May 2007 after Albero, who often takes local politicians to task, criticized Webster and posted information about him on the Salisbury News. The dispute revolved in part around Albero's posting of a third-party, anonymous letter addressed to Salisbury City Council Members, which expressed negative views about Webster.

In a pre-trial memorandum, Albero argued that he should not be compelled to disclose his source for the letter. He argued that the identity of the source was not relevant to the case, that Maryland's shield law protected him from having to identify his source, and that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) immunized him from liability for posting the letter.

In April, a Maryland state court judge ruled that Albero could not take advantage of Maryland's shield law, which applies to individuals who are "employed" by the "news media" (which is defined as including any "electronic means of disseminating news and information to the public"). The court's rationale appears to have been that Albero is not "employed" by his bog, which hosts no advertising, because he does not earn revenue from it, but we haven't obtained a transcript of the oral ruling. The court decided on other grounds that Albero need not reveal the identity of his source. 

For more information on the case, please see our database entry, Webster v. Albero.  Hat tip to the Reporters Committee.


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