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Number of posts : 230
Registration date : 2009-02-05

PostSubject: Blogger Lawsuit   Sun Feb 08, 2009 5:20 pm

Lawsuit targets anonymous online comments

09:03 AM CST on Saturday, February 7, 2009


Fair Comment? February 6th, 2009Chris Hawes reports More WFAA Latest News video View larger E-mail clip More video Related links: Topix.com
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FORT WORTH — Hundreds of people who posted their opinions of a sexual assault trial in an online forum are now the targets of a lawsuit.

The authors of those comments on the Topix.com Web site thought they were anonymous, but this week, a judge ruled their names should be revealed.

Mark and Rhonda Lesher lived quietly in Northeast Texas; Mark practiced law, Rhonda ran a beauty salon.

Then, last year, a woman accused the couple — along with another man — of sexually assaulting her. That's when the anonymous comments started appearing on Topix.com.

An estimated 1,700 statements were too graphic to be included in this story, going far beyond the criminal charges.

"They were perverted, sick, vile, inhumane accusations," said Mark Lesher in a telephone interview from Clarksville, Texas.

The Leshers' attorney, William Pieratt Demond, labeled the comments "a form of persecution."

Last month, the couple got their day in court. A jury found the Leshers, along with their alleged accomplice, not guilty. But in the online Topix forum, it seemed, the trial had no end.

"It just ... basically made us both feel like common criminals," Lesher said. "It's like someone had basically raped us of our reputation and our standing in the community over and over and over again."

And so this month, the Leshers sued 178 anonymous posters on Topix.com. A Tarrant County judge ordered Topix to turn over potentially identifying information about the users listed in the lawsuit.. Topix has until March 6 to comply with the ruling.

"We do not just give up people's privacy," said Topix CEO Chris Tolles. "We're very, very careful about that."

But Tolles said the Topix discussions are not necessarily a license to run people through the mud. "If there is a line that's been crossed from a libel standpoint — and it seems reasonable — we do, in fact, cooperate with the courts."

This lawsuit was brought in Tarrant County because it appears at least one anonymous poster lives here.

Internet libel suits have had success in the past. A few years ago a North Dakota professor was awarded $3 million over claims a student Web site defamed him.

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