Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawyers: Blogger's Rights Not Violated; It's in the Case of a Man Who Anonymously Criticized First Baptist

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lawyers: Blogger's Rights Not Violated; It's in the Case of a Man Who Anonymously Criticized First Baptist

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Police and prosecutors did nothing to violate a blogger's free speech and privacy rights by revealing his name to First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, attorneys for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office said in court filings this week.

They also argued their clients are immune from litigation as government agencies and officials.

Michael Roberts, the attorney for outed blogger Thomas Rich, said there was little surprising in the responses filed Thursday but added he plans to file a similar lawsuit claiming the defendants also violated the Florida constitution's stricter provision of privacy rights.

Rich's April 27 lawsuit claims his constitutional rights to free speech and anonymity were violated when Detective Robert Hinson "fabricated" a criminal investigation to obtain a subpoena from Assistant State Attorney Stephen Siegel, which Hinson used to uncover Rich's identity.

Rich maintained the anonymous blog fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com since August 2007, using it to criticize Pastor Mac Brunson on everything from salary to ministry decisions.

NO CRIME UNCOVERED

Hinson, who is a member of First Baptist, conducted the investigation from Sept. 29 to Nov. 13. He promptly closed the case after finding no criminal activity had occurred, but he provided Rich's name to the church. The congregation's leadership used the information to bar Rich and his wife from attending church until he agreed to undergo its disciplinary process. Rich and the church could not agree on the terms of a meeting and the couple eventually joined another congregation.

Revealing the identity has prevented Rich from practicing his religion how and where he saw fit and from being able to blog anonymously in the future, Roberts said.

DEFENDANTS CLAIM IMMUNITY

The Sheriff's Office cannot be sued because it is a department of the city, Assistant General Counsel Jon Phillips said in the motion to dismiss the suit. …

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