By Erin Geiger Smith
Dec 11 (Reuters) - The lawyer for an anonymous blogger who
criticized a Michigan law school plans to argue on Wednesday
that the blogger's identity should be kept secret.
Paul Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy
group, is scheduled to appear in the Michigan Court of Appeals
in Lansing on behalf of the blogger, a former student of Thomas
M. Cooley School of Law who criticized the school in an online
blog he authored.
The case has drawn widespread attention from civil rights
groups and the media. Levy is expected to try to convince the
court that the law school, which wants to publicly identify the
blogger, must show it has a legitimate reason to do so, and not
just a desire for revenge.
James Thelan, the school's associate dean for legal affairs,
said Cooley "would like to proceed publicly because we don't
think anyone should be able to hide behind defamatory words."
The dispute started in July 2011 when the blogger and
several commenters on his site q uestioned the accuracy of
employment data released by the school and its representatives,
referring to the statements as "criminal" and "fraud."
Cooley sued, claiming the statements had defamed the school,
and subpoenaed the blogger's California-based Internet-hosting
company, Weebly, demanding it identify the blogger.
The blogger filed a motion asking the trial court in
Michigan to invalidate the subpoena, but by then Weebly already
had turned over the information sought by Cooley, which
disclosed the blogger's name in a court filing.
Eventually the court found that by using words as strong as
"criminal" and "fraud," the blogger was not entitled to First
Amendment protection and that Cooley would not have to show
actual malice to prove it had been defamed.
The trial judge put all issues relating to the case on hold
until the blogger's appeal was heard, noting that Michigan had
not yet decided on the appropriate standard for identifying an
In Wednesday's hearing, the blogger will urge the appeals
court to adopt a standard that requires anonymous defendants be
notified that their right to speak anonymously is being
challenged. It will also ask that Cooley must show it is likely
to win the case before the court should allow the blogger to be
In his brief, the blogger argued that the court should
balance the rights to anonymous speech against the right of an
allegedly slandered party to defend itself.
"The challenge ... is to develop a test for the
identification of anonymous speakers that makes it neither too
easy for deliberate defamers to hide behind pseudonyms, nor too
easy for a big company or a public figure to unmask critics
simply by filing a complaint that purports to state an untested
claim for relief," the brief said.
In its brief, Cooley argued that Weebly, the Internet
company, was authorized to release the name under its terms of
service. The school also argued that Michigan law does not, and
should not, require a plaintiff to prove the strength of its
claims before it conducts discovery.
The school repeatedly has said it stands by its employment
The case is Thomas Cooley Law School v. John Doe, State of
Michigan Court of Appeals, Fourth District, No. 307426.
For the law school: Michael Coakley of Miller Canfield
Paddock & Stone.
For John Doe: Paul Levy of Public Citizen Law Group.
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook