N.J. High Court to Review If Bloggers Can Invoke Shield Law

FREEHOLD, N.J. — The state Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether blogger Shellee Hale, who was sued by Too Much Media for defamation over her online postings, can raise New Jersey’s statutory protection of news reporters’ sources and editorial processes.

The court will hear Hale’s interlocutory appeal, “limited only to those issues relating to the New Jersey Shield Law and the 1st Amendment.”

“I am not surprised that the Supreme Court may want to define who is and is not considered media for the purpose of the Shield Law,” Too Much Media attorney Joel Kreizman told XBIZ. “I am confident whatever the definition of media may be, that Shellee Hale and her posts on a message board will not fit within that definition.”

An appellate judge last April affirmed an earlier court ruling that the state’s shield law doesn’t apply to Hale, even though she runs a website reporting on technical and criminal activity in the adult entertainment industry.

The court found the shield law inapplicable to online posters not engaged in gathering or disseminating news and that Hale “exhibited none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process, nor has she demonstrated an established connection or affiliation with any news entity" when she posted statements on another site that were critical of Too Much Media, which markets NATS.

Hale is being sued over statements she posted on Oprano.com, accusing Too Much Media of fraud and "illegal and unethical use of technology," violating New Jersey's Identity Theft Protection Act.

Hale called herself a journalist she was gathering information about an Internet security breach at the company. Hale posted on a website that Too Much Media failed to inform customers of a security breach because she alleged it was making money off of it.

"We are left with a position that anyone who says, under oath, 'I am a journalist' is thereby to receive the benefit of the Shield Law," Kreizman said. "It matters nil that the person makes that affirmation has no credibility."

Hale's lawyer, Jeffrey Pollock, urged the court to review the case, arguing in his May 21 brief that the published appeals court ruling "has now shattered the Shield Law's broad reach."