A New Jersey Superior Court judge, in an unpublished decision, said that Shellee Hale is not shielded by the state’s newsperson’s privilege and that her motion to protect sources of information is denied, paving the way for Too Much Media to sue her for defamation.
The judge also said that comments she made on Oprano.com were actionable without proof of monetary losses because her postings alleged that Too Much Media engaged in criminal conduct and that the company is incompetent.
Hale’s posts in 2007 alleged that breached Too Much Media data could have given hackers access to names and addresses of account holders, which the company denies.
Specifically, Hale alleged in posts on Oprano.com that Too Much Media engaged in illegal uses of technology, made physical threats against those who released information relative to an unrelated suit with NR Media, and used its NATS affiliate-tracking software to cause influx of spam to its customers and re-directs to websites away from their customers to websites owned by Too Much Media or one of its employees.
She also alleged that Too Much Media failed to inform customers of a security breach because it was making money off of it.
Hale had said that her sources were protected because she acts as a journalist.
But Judge Louis Locascio said in his ruling that Hale overextended her occupation to the court and that just because she has a license in private investigative work and holds a degree in medicine doesn’t mean she can be awarded protections for all aspects of news gathering and dissemination.
“Although Hale … vaguely contends that she has published articles in one legitimate newspaper and several trade journals, this court gives no credence to these contentions …,” ruled Locuascio, who noted that there were several discrepancies with her testimony at a pre-trial hearing.
Further, the court ruled that Hale’s contention that a message board is equivalent to a news website is incorrect and that posters should not be given the same protections as print or online news journalists.
“To extend the newsperson’s privilege to such posters would mean anyone with an email address, with no connection to any legitimate news publication, could post anything on the Internet and hide behind shield-law protections,” Locuascio wrote. “The fact that she never contacted Too Much Media’s representatives, to hear their side of the story, certainly does not suggest the kind of journalistic objectivity and credibility that courts have found to qualify for the protections.”
Too Much Media co-owner John Albright told XBIZ that he wanted to clear the air on the case as it continues at Monmouth County Superior Court. He said that there have been some misinterpretations in the press about his company’s legal challenge.
“It has been reported that we are suing her because she is simply discussing the fact that we had a security breach in the past,” he told XBIZ. “This is not the case. We are suing her due to the statements she has made about this incident.”