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School District Threatens Suit Over Parent's Blog

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the speech-in-a-deep-freeze dept.

The Internet 291

penguin_dance writes "A Texas School District is threatening to sue a parent over what it terms 'libelous material' or other 'legally offensive' postings on her web site and are demanding their removal. Web site owner Sandra Tetley says they're just opinions. The legal firm sending the demand cited 16 items, half posted by Tetley, the rest by anonymous commentators to her blog. The alleged libelous postings 'accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of lying, manipulation, falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for "personal gain," violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees, among other things.' The problem for the district is that previous courts have ruled that governments can't sue for libel. So now, in a follow-up story, the lawyers say the firm 'would file a suit on behalf of administrators in their official capacities and individual board members. The suit, however, would be funded from the district's budget.' So far, Tetley hasn't backed down, although she said she'll 'consult with her attorneys before deciding what, if anything, to delete.'"

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291 comments

Easy (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264851)

Delete the part where you ask them to not eat your shorts. Then add a bit saying "see you in court". And get ready with the counter-suit.

Re:Easy (4, Interesting)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265081)

Sorry to comment-jack, but I think you guys here on Slashdot will be interested in this, it's the first chance I've really had to discuss it, and it's extremely relevant to this thread.

Sorry in advance that it's poorly written, my brains frazzled from studying and I don't have time to plan it properly.

About 6 weeks ago I was 'removed' from my school (in Victoria, Australia) for writing a blog. I'm eighteen, doing my VCE (Year 12) and two days after writing it my Mum was called and asked to bring me in (and asked to pull me out of work specifically for it.. she didn't, so they waited at the school until seven so that they could do it that night).

The blog in question was satirical, and made fun of numerous things about the school (spending so much on toilets when they're still so crap, our health teachers poor understanding of some contraception methods, the fact we put had 'annual festivities' to impress visitors from Japan, my new VET Multimedia teachers, a picture of a condom found on the floor in the Year 7-9 toilets (12 to 15)). I named some names (of the teachers, and one student who made a webpage which received an award despite coming straight out of 1995). I realise in retrospect I did a lot of things wrong, but hear me out.

I was told, in the 'meeting', that I was not to come back to school. Clear my locker out and leave. She (the principal) would 'speak to the region' and I'd probably get transferred. I had 4 weeks to go, then exams. Excluding holidays. In the first week, nothing was done, we waited to find out what was happening (heard very little). Then 2 weeks of holidays (which of course no-one works), then the next week we were told I'd be sitting my SACs at my house (with teacher supervision) and doing my exams at another school 30 km away. In the meeting, I'd offered EVERYTHING to keep myself there. I apologised, my Mum tried to get her to address the more pressing concerns in the blog (neither of my VET Multimedia teachers were qualified to teach the course), but she ignored this. I was told to take the blog down or they'd speak to their legal team (apparently some parts were defammatory).

In the end, I was able to contact my teachers - through her.. A very slow process. Now, it's exam time. I've done alright so far, but my ENTER score is seriously going to suffer from the fact I missed out on the most crucial part of the year. Does the school care? No. The Department of Education said that her actions were completely reasonable.. This is despite the fact she was also mentioned in said blog, as the handicap parking spot in the car park was removed and, ala, a spot for her showed up :).

So, this isn't the first case. Oh, and wish me luck with my exam tomorrow..

If you want to ask questions, just reply here and I'll answer them. Don't waste your time flaming me, I realise in retrospect to watch what you say online, but come on.. it was meant for a cheap laugh, and my serious attempts to address the issues were ignored. It was a creative outlet for me and it's seriously affected my future.. alas, I have no recourse it'd seem. Also, anyone who commented on the blog was banned from all Year 12 events - Muck up day, valedictory (graudation) dinner, etc.

Australia.. so much for a free country.

Re:Easy (3, Interesting)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265103)

Note: I should point out.. I'm aware Australia doesn't have freedom of speech laws. Also, I was a grade A student (for most things), and my final mark will still go on my previous schools records.. so really, they haven't lost out at all.

Oh, and one of the unqualified multimedia teachers ended up not being at school the next day - she (unsurprisingly) had a Professional Development day. Apparently they were completing their Multimedia certificate to be qualified to teach, but weren't legally allowed to yet. The teachers also didn't realise they had to keep copies of assessment work - all of our work was deleted 'upon review', to 'make it easier' for the teacher (because, you know, he couldn't move it to a "Been Marked" folder) - this came up when I asked him why I'd lost marks.. he told me he didn't know because my work was deleted weeks ago.

Re:Easy (4, Informative)

bombastinator (812664) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265193)

Timer to hire a lawyer.

I don't know much about Australian law, but I suspect that if the local press is not somehow denied access to the site, merely threatening to sue them anyway even if you don't have a case will likely garner you enough press time to embarrass them a lot more than the website.

They may allow you back in or to retake the test in simple self defense. You will likely be seeing some hardball. The accusations on your site can be enough to keep an elected official out of office or get a superintendent fired. Again consult the lawyer first, but pointing out that it will get into the local news may cause a really amazing effect.

Also don't assume that t6hey are necessarily telling you the truth about what is defamatory and what is not. A lot of that stuff is opinion and not thier opinion to boot.

Re:Easy (2, Informative)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265261)

They may allow you back in or to retake the test in simple self defense. You will likely be seeing some hardball. The accusations on your site can be enough to keep an elected official out of office or get a superintendent fired. Again consult the lawyer first, but pointing out that it will get into the local news may cause a really amazing effect.
They're not letting me back in, school is already over. The exams are already in progress.. it all happened at the worst possible time. Also, there was libel in one portion - I relayed on the fact several people call one of the teachers a pedophile (In the opinion of many people, he's the creepy teacher.. A lot of my female friends have told me tales of him 'perving' on them on free dress days). My 'accusation' was meant in jest (It was more satire of the fact people call him a pedophile, which is over the top, but at the same time going the other way), but it could still be construed as libel if they wished.

Re:Easy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265469)

Rub yourself with boot polish and claim racial discrimination. Only the wogs get any attention in Australia, the days of the true battler who works hard and makes a fair go are long gone.

Re:Easy (0, Troll)

Peet42 (904274) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265479)

I relayed on the fact several people call one of the teachers a pedophile


If it comes to court, remember to point out that a "pedophile" is a foot fetishist. I'm guessing you meant a "paedophile", but luckily for you you got it wrong. :-)

Re:Easy (1)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265511)

If it comes to court, remember to point out that a "pedophile" is a foot fetishist. I'm guessing you meant a "paedophile", but luckily for you you got it wrong. :-)
Got a source?

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], both spellings are correct (I believe Pedophile is 'British' spelling?)

Re:Easy (2, Interesting)

ben0207 (845105) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265685)

Pedophile is the Yank (incorrect) spelling.

Paedophile is the British (correct) spelling.

Re:Easy (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265629)

Also, there was libel in one portion - I relayed on the fact several people call one of the teachers a pedophile (In the opinion of many people, he's the creepy teacher.. A lot of my female friends have told me tales of him 'perving' on them on free dress days).

No-one "perving" on 16/17/18 year old girls is a paedophile. Creepy, maybe - but even that's dependent on how "hot" said girls think he is.

Re:Easy (1)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265747)

No-one "perving" on 16/17/18 year old girls is a paedophile. Creepy, maybe - but even that's dependent on how "hot" said girls think he is.
Try the age range of 12 to 15 (Secondary School, Year 7 to 9, in Australia). A family-friend in Year 9 told her Mum that they don't like it when he's around them (he always volunteers to do things like Year 7/8 Swimming Sports), and when Mum spoke to her Mum and told her the name of the person I mentioned, she was like "Oh my, that's the name of the teacher my daughter is uncomfortable with..".

Re:Easy (4, Insightful)

Da Fokka (94074) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265273)

You have to understand that the actions of your school against your are the result of their fear of negative publicity. Use this to your advantage. It looks like some of your criticism was legitimate. Contact your local newspaper and tell them about the issues you have. You have a right to proper education and if you are being denied that right, you have the right to tell people about the main reasons you are not getting the education you deserve.

Re:Easy (3, Funny)

Antony-Kyre (807195) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265289)

In my opinion, there is a fine line between opinion and libel. For example, if you have "in my opinion" in what you're saying, then that makes it an opinion, in my opinion. However, I may be wrong, but I don't feel wrong, in my opinion.

If what you mentioned contained libel, then this probably won't work. But in my opinion, if it weren't for the libel, I would personally consider suing. All you need is to document the financial loss you incurred when they harassed you, assuming it is considered harassment, which I won't say whether or not they did.

Re:Easy (1)

adri (173121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265309)

Hi, I'm in Australia and I'm slightly older than you (28).

I'd suggest writing a letter to your local representative and to the local and state newspapers. Write, write, write. Explain your situation, explain how you were treated.

Re:Easy (1)

Mike89 (1006497) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265373)

Hi, I'm in Australia and I'm slightly older than you (28).

I'd suggest writing a letter to your local representative and to the local and state newspapers. Write, write, write. Explain your situation, explain how you were treated.

Thanks for the advice :). I was considering doing this, had to wait until I was certain I'd be allowed to sit exams first (I believe they could've expelled me entirely, and because 'mirrors' of the blog kept popping up [People had printed it out to show their parents], this was sort've implied).

The thing is, couldn't I get a bad name for myself out of this? I am fine with the entire piece except the line stating that we (the students) suspect a teacher is a pedophile (as explained in one of my other replies). If I push this, could they push back?

Re:Easy (1)

MatB (845512) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265545)

couldn't I get a bad name for myself out of this?
Depends what you mean by 'bad'--you apologised and offered to remove the offensive material, you're 18, 18 year olds make mistakes. The school refused your apology and then set about destroying your life chances.

Some corporate employers would look at you poorly because of it, and it'll likely have to go on some applications. But if you make a fuss, get your MP/senators/whoever involved, then you might make a good name for yourself.

I don't know you, I only have your side, and I don't know Aussie employers or universities, nor do I know what the polity is like (I know the constitution fairly well because I studied it, but not the way voters and politicians react to certain stories). If it were down to me as an employer, or the admissions tutor that let me into my university, that you've admitted your mistake is a good sign, and I'd let you in/employ you, people learn from mistakes.

But I'm not most people--you have to decide, but I'd personally kick up a massive fuss, if what you say is correct, they've really messed you up for a prank that was stupid, but not that serious.

Re:Easy (1)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265561)

The thing is, couldn't I get a bad name for myself out of this?

Yes. Of course you can also get a "good" name out of it.
 

I am fine with the entire piece except the line stating that we (the students) suspect a teacher is a pedophile (as explained in one of my other replies). If I push this, could they push back?

Yes, but this is why you would need to contact an attorney first. I can't speak for Australian law, but here in the US, it would depend on how it was worded. If the statement was accusatory, you could be held for libel. If it merely stated what the public opinion was, you could show that you weren't accusing the teacher of being a pedophile, but you were instead stating the opinion (and fears) of some of the students. However, you could still be taken to court over the statement. This is why you need a lawyer involved. If they choose to take you to court, the lawyer would be the most effective at arguing that your statement was not really libel.


I your case, it might be better to avoid recognition and whisper into the right persons ears all the true infractions committed by the school (like for example hiring uncertified teachers).

Re:Easy (1)

ud plasmo (842308) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265427)

hey im from melbourne as well. where bout are you located at lol? i suggest you should contact your local newspaper and write write write :)

Re:Easy (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265443)

I was a year 12 student at a Queensland high school last year, and it is becoming quite clear the state of Australian schools is declining. We had a teacher, who like yours, was unqualified to teach us, even if he was a substitute. The students of my class didn't mind too much because he was only a temp, right up until he made a 40 minute phone call during one of our classes on his mobile, without even leaving the classroom. We tried to talk to the principal but anyone who questioned a teacher was threatened with instant suspension.

Re:Easy (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265579)

It's not just Australia. The school systems in North America are just as guilty of silencing dissident speech. The reality is that the system is horribly broken and distorted pretty much everywhere, but just like a used car salesman they're quick to hide the flaws instead of solving the problems at the root.

The problem is the education system and its not-so-subtle agendas. Normally I'd be quick to advocate private schooling, but there's an upsetting lack of skilled freelance teachers in the world. Home-schooled kids just end up even more useless than their retarded parents.

Re:Easy (1)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265635)

I'd mod you down as a troll for the home-school fallacy, but you aren't worth it. Try doing some studying about home-schooled kids than going on what I suspect may be a couple of personal experiences which should be chalked up to anecdotal evidence.

Re:Easy (1)

icept (1153877) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265633)

Unfortunately, the situation of being taught by a teacher who hasn't got a background in the subject they're teaching is all too common these days. I'm an Australian school teacher in the government system and am seeing this happen in many learning areas (in particular, science, maths and technical subjects). The fact is, the system is starting to fail because the working conditions and salaries are so poor (comparatively) that people with the necessary backgrounds are attracted to better jobs in other fields. I can imagine it would be frustrating being taught by a teacher who doesn't know the subject, but often it is a choice between this teacher and none at all. Adding things like harassment via blogs or litigation to the mix is only going to make the situation worse for teachers, the education system and, ultimately, the students. Of course teachers must be accountable for their work but, currently, the system is stretching them so far that many are saying the job isn't worth it any more. Imagine you are a fully qualified teacher in your own discipline, forced to teach a subject you know nothing about (because there's nobody else to do it) and then publicly humiliated for your lack of expertise on someone's blog. I believe everyone has a right to a free and good education and that the Australian system isn't necessarily providing this in all areas, but subjecting teachers and schools to this kind of ridicule can actually cause a lot more harm than you realise. Not just to the individuals concerned, but to the system and future students.

Re:Easy (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265637)

Simple rule of slashdot comment-jacking. Go ahead, but if you are doing it from your old Commodore computer expect people to be a bit skeptical.

Before we go off half cocked... (3, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264859)

First, why not link to the blog, you dumbass editors?

Second, from just what's written in the summary, it's a pretty clear case of someone using their blog to accuse school officials of wrongdoing. It doesn't sound at all like "opinions". It sounds like accusations and innuendo. I'm not sure how responsible this person is for the comments, but the articles themselves are pretty libelous if untrue.

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (2, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264929)

First, why not link to the blog, you dumbass editors?
Dumbass submitter you mean

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264939)

I do not blame a 3 year old for running around a store screaming at the top of his lungs. He is 3. It's what he does.

I blame the parents for bringing the 3 year old to the store and not keeping him under control.

I realize I shouldn't expect the /. editors to actually edit, but it would be nice sometimes.

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (2, Funny)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264969)

Next you're going to be asking them not to post dupes. I ask you, sir, where will this insanity end?

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265621)

Seriously. Slashdot does not have, nor has it ever had, Editors. Slashdot has copyists which it calls 'Editors' much to the dismay of a certain segment of its readership. You can check the FAQ out (I haven't read it in years) and it basically says that they do not want to be editors. This is something they want the Slashdot participants to do. I find it annoying as hell but in their defense there are several posts with links claiming to be the blog in question.

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1)

Merls the Sneaky (1031058) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264993)

Why didn't you link to it yourself, seeing as how you found its omission so objectionable you have done nothing to correct it.

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1)

kryten250 (1177211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265021)

www.gisdwatch.com the blog. 13 seconds to type this, this is all i have to do to pass the time...

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1)

budgenator (254554) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265473)

Actually from what I've read it's a case of less than astutue public officals being repeatedly embarassed for wasting and squandering public funds and failing to take advantage or having knowlege of federal grant money. take a look at the Blog [gisdwatch.com] and see if you agree. would you think this is libelous?

I wonder what the school Principals and teachers think about how much money they are spending to silence us. Especially when they promised each teacher a $250 stipend for their classroom and then took the amounts out of the teachers' budgets, rather than out of the "big" budget. Where exactly is the Board and the Administration's priority?

Re:Before we go off half cocked... (1)

urcreepyneighbor (1171755) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265477)

Why don't you RTFA, you dumbass luser?

Feldman said Tetley's Web site - www.gisdwatch.com [gisdwatch.com] - contained the most "personal, libelous invective directed toward a school administrator" he's seen in his 31-year career.

In Texas? (0, Troll)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264865)

I'm shocked.

Shocked? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21264915)

Only if your a criminal, I hear

Just so you know, Texas is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21264965)

Just so you know, Texas is bigger than all the other states, combined !! and everyone's a millionaire !!

And don't you look at my girlfriend
Cause she's the only one I got !!
Not much of a girlfried
I never seem to get a lot

Re:Just so you know, Texas is (2, Funny)

Sciryl Llort (1160727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265349)

Just so you know, Texas is bigger than all the other states, combined !!

# Hey Shell, you know it's kinda funny,
    Texas always seemed so big
    But you know you're in the largest state in the union,
    When you're anchored down in Anchrage .. /#

The site in question... (5, Informative)

xzaph (1157805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264897)

Since it's not linked in the op, the site in question is http://www.gisdwatch.com/ [gisdwatch.com]

Re:The site in question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265167)

Something very fishy - A site filled with advertisments ?

Re:The site in question... (1)

xzaph (1157805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265441)

Not sure why you'd have ads, there are none on the site for me (and that's after temporarily disabling adblock, even if it didn't show any blocked items).

Absolute defense. (5, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264899)

The alleged libelous postings 'accuse Superintendent Lynne Cleveland, trustees and administrators of [...] using their positions for "personal gain," [...]


The suit, however, would be funded from the district's budget.'



Isn't truth an absolute defense to an accusation of libel ?

Re:Absolute defense. (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264925)

It is on the condition that people have access to the truth, believe the truth, regard you appropriately after knowing the truth.

In other words, if someone's slandered you, you're pretty much screwed.

Re:Absolute defense. (2, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265109)

Isn't truth an absolute defense to an accusation of libel ?

The law rarely deals in absolutes. The shotgun approach where you fire off dozens of accusations in the hope that at least some of them will stick suggests a malicious or reckless disregard for the truth.

So it's no problem - if you have infinite finances (1)

walterbyrd (182728) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265595)

If the poster can prove that any factual statements he made, are true, then he has a strong defense.

But, at what cost? Any well financed institution can easily run your legal expenses into the the tens of thousands - and very possibly more.

Then there is the issue of your time, if you have a full-time job, or if you are full time student, or parent; you just may not the time to spend the next few years in the court room. Big institutions know this.

Re:Absolute defense. (1)

javaxjb (931766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265627)

Isn't truth an absolute defense to an accusation of libel ?

Absolutely not. As an example, says John with derisive inflection, "Of course, George Bush is qualified to be president. After all, he has a high school diploma." While it is true that he has a high school diploma, he also has an MBA from Harvard. Of course, you could make the case that it is false because he's not qualified to be president, but for this example let's give John the benefit of the doubt.

Its not that hard a problem. (4, Insightful)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264903)

Just because its a blog doesnt it make any less real than posting it as leaflets on lampposts.

If the accusations are true, than they will lose.
If they arent, they have every right to defend themselves against this libel.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264949)

With libel you have to prove they're true. If you don't have the evidence, you lose.
 

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

kryten250 (1177211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264983)

It is my understanding that here in america that the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff. Also Rule 45 for civil procedure says that the defense does not have to provide discovery for the plaintiff(s). INAL, but I think I'm right here.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (3, Informative)

edittard (805475) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265013)

It is my understanding that here in america that the burden of proof rests on the plaintiff.
Your understanding is flawed. And there's a good reason it works like that for defamation.

I say: Kryten250 did, at some unspecified time and place, suck a donkey's balls.

You then sue me. That makes you the plaintiff. Can you prove that you didn't, ever, suck donkey balls?

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (4, Informative)

kryten250 (1177211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265041)

I don't have to prove I didn't but I still have a burden of proof.

In a libel action, the plaintiff must prove three elements of the tort of libel:

  The statement has been made to a third party.

  The statement referred to the plaintiff. (This does not mean that the statement has to refer expressly to the plaintiff. A statement can be actionable if it is reasonably capable of referring to the plaintiff).

  The statement must be defamatory, which means that it must be a false statement to the plaintiff's discredit.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

kryten250 (1177211) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265125)

Looks like you will win this arguement based soley on the fact that you have better karma. No one has read my responses debunking your "interesting" post that is flat out invalid.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265415)

this would mean he'd "won" only if your reason for arguing with him is to demonstrate to the world what an insightful genius you are.

if, alternatively, your reason for arguing isn't posing and vanity then the argument stands whether anyone else read it or not.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (2, Interesting)

JoelKatz (46478) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265517)

"I say: Kryten250 did, at some unspecified time and place, suck a donkey's balls.
You then sue me. That makes you the plaintiff. Can you prove that you didn't, ever, suck donkey balls?"

There's probably a name for this logical fallacy.

Men play hockey.
Socrates never played hockey.
Therefore Socrates is not a man.

That the Plaintiff doesn't have to prove that there is no possible way the statement is true doesn't mean the plaintiff doesn't have the burden of proof.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

flynns (639641) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264975)

Also, it's the government. The government can't sue for libel, but, effectively, they are. It's fucked up.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

Goffee71 (628501) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265017)

It's not truth but evidence that a jury decides on. And evidence does funny things in the hands of lawyers

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (2, Informative)

julesh (229690) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265091)

Just because its a blog doesnt it make any less real than posting it as leaflets on lampposts.

If the accusations are true, than they will lose.
If they arent, they have every right to defend themselves against this libel.


That's not entirely true. There's a defence to libel called "honest opinion", which basically means that the statements made are clearly intended to be interpreted as opinion rather than absolute statements of fact. This does, in fact, mean that blogs (a medium that is commonly used for distributing opinions) are harder to show libel in than pamphlets (which are usually intended to be interpreted as fact).

This blog [gisdwatch.com], with article titles like "FASCIST STATE RISING!!" and "More Work for Erik the Destroyer!" is clearly dealing in opinion.

IANAL; this is not legal advice; etc.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265631)

Calling your site a "blog" and using sensationalist headlines does not magically change statements of fact to opinions.
  • lying: Everyone lies about something, so unless the person cites specific examples that are relevant to school administration, I don't think a libel case would stick
  • manipulation: See above, but it's probably even harder to prove that some statement is intended to manipulate (isn't that what almost everything anyone says meant to do?)
  • falsifying budget numbers: This is a fairly specific and serious charge, so I could see a legitimate libel suit for this
  • using their positions for "personal gain": If they get paid, of course the positions are for personal gain, so there would need to be some very specific examples of stuff like bribery
  • violating the Open Meetings Act: I would guess that this is a specific accusation, but I don't know anything about this law, so the law might be broad enough that just saying "they violated this law" is too vague to be considered a statement of fact as far as libel is concerned
  • spying on employees: By itself, this might be too vague, since "spying" could mean someone looked over an employee's shoulder at their computer monitor, but some specific example of illegally monitoring employees would be enough for libel
I would say that there's at least one, possibly three or four, statements in the list given in the summary that are statements of fact and subject to libel law, no matter what you call the web page that you post them on.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (2, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265101)

To make your analogy accurate, you would have to include the fact that people came along afterwards and wrote additional things on the leaflets she put on lampposts, and they are suing her for those statements as well.

Re:Its not that hard a problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265205)

Yes, but to most people outside of America, where you can't sue left right and centre for any old thing that's no big deal, whilst most countries have libel laws they're infrequently used for something so petty in the grand scheme of it all. Generally we work on the principle that if someone can't prove their claims in such a leaflet or blog that it's not worth the time of day anyway. Most people just make up their own minds based on the evidence provided, there's no reason to sue other than to prove the other party correct in that you've got something to hide - it's just sad that the US legal system so openly and regularly entertains such idiocy.

than vs then (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265299)

>If the accusations are true, than they will lose.

Should be "If the accusations are true, then they will lose."

Sounds like... (1)

jimboindeutchland (1125659) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264941)

just another case of somebody butting heads with the Streisand effect.
I also find it interesting that the district...

would file a suit on behalf of administrators in their official capacities and individual board members. The suit, however, would be funded from the district's budget.
Considering (according to TFA) the libelous material is targeted at individuals not the School District. Obviously when you're in charge of a government department you can do what you like with the monay[sic].

This is what annoys me the most. (3, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264977)

They know that previous rulings prevent the district from suing so they are doing a run around. It is my belief that if this actually makes it to court and the district loses then the money MUST be repaid by everyone on the board that brought the suit.

Frankly, posting anything about government officials, other than death threats or personal information, should not be discouraged. If the public cannot voice their disagreements with local officials then we are no longer free. The fact is, the public officials don't have to like what is posted about them, thats their choice. It is not their choice to silence people who post such.

while that sites forum is a pain to read it does appear that most of the people complaining are doing so with good maturity. The problem for the district is that people are connecting the dots, adding up the numbers, and then questioning it.

That the district would use a back door method to skirt a previous court ruling about suing only lends more credit to those posting on the blog.

Whats next? Suing people who start recall drives? Perhaps the members of the blog should try that next.

Their filing suit will prove it true. (2, Insightful)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265067)

If they use the district's money to file the lawsuit with the individuals as plaintiff will make the statements that they use district funds for personal gain a true statement.

Shame on everyone else here. You all forgot the part about CDA immunity.

Re:This is what annoys me the most. (1)

chuckymonkey (1059244) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265085)

The other problem that I see with this is that the way they are going about it only serves to reinforce what the defendent was saying in the first place. I would think that as an elected official the simplest way to deal with something like this is to completely ignore it and if a question is posed directly then give a direct answer. Should someone reference the site a simple "Everyone is entitled to an opinion." would suffice for 99% of people.

Re:This is what annoys me the most. (1)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265255)

Frankly, posting anything about government officials, other than death threats or personal information, should not be discouraged. If the public cannot voice their disagreements with local officials then we are no longer free. The fact is, the public officials don't have to like what is posted about them, thats their choice. It is not their choice to silence people who post such.

So you had no problem with GW Bush spreading rumors of John McCain's illegitimate black child?

What about that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth garbage?

Sorry, you can't just make up lies about people, even if they are in public office. In fact, keeping people from spreading outright lies becomes even more important for informed voters

Re:This is what annoys me the most. (1)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265407)

But in truth these are torts against those particular individuals, not against the government proper. If they then used positions of authority to appropriate tax funds to assist their suit, that would be inappropriate, no? I think it a reasonable rule that the government cannot sue for libel/slander. Individual officers may do so on their own time as per any individual injury, knowing of course that the bar is raised because they are such public officials and thus natural targets of opinion and speculation.

Re:This is what annoys me the most. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265413)

Sorry, you can't just make up lies about people, even if they are in public office. In fact, keeping people from spreading outright lies becomes even more important for informed voters
If your examples were truly egregious, then your assertion here would be false. I don't remember the upshot of the McCain story, but as far as Kerry's Swiftboat problem goes, none of the statements against him were disproved. The media made them appear false through tortured logic. Their main argument was that, "none of the detractors served on John Kerry's boat." Well, one of them did, but the bigger point is: BFD. They still served together in a close working relationship. They knew each other. They interacted. At the end of the day, all important events on all the boats would have been reported, sworn about, laughed at, etc. through several rounds of beers.

Can a citizen libel his government? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21264973)

And can the government sue even if he does?

War for Oil.

Bush Lied, Thousands Died.

That Shambling Ape in the White House.

Chimpy McHaliburton.

Ok, I'm convinced. That lady should be sued by the government for libel.

As should the above traitorous fools.

Re:Can a citizen libel his government? (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265717)

The difference is that of the four statements you list, two wouldn't be considered statements of fact (no sane court would rule that saying Bush isn't biologically human is meant to be a real statement of fact), one isn't a specific statement ("He lied" is pretty vague), and the other is debatable enough and somewhat vague (you can't really prove or disprove someone's motivations for taking an action). While agree that the school administrators don't really have a case for "lying" and "manipulating" being libel, "falsifying budget numbers" is specific enough, and most likely able to be proved or disproved by a detailed audit, that it could at least get looked at by a court.

Generate your own bad publicity (5, Insightful)

WibbleOnMars (1129233) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264997)

I don't know the details of this story, whether there's any merit in the school's arguments or not, because I haven't read the original blog (and even if I did, I'd be reading a one-sided biased view), but they are being seen to have gone in heavy-handed with the lawyers, and the result is that a small local dispute has been syndicated in Slashdot, and probably plenty of places elsewhere. Effectively by calling in the lawyers, they've turned a small amount of bad publicity into a very large amount of much worse publicity. This is something I've noticed happening a lot lately (most obviously with the RIAA etc). So regardless of the merits of the case, the lesson seems to be if you're considering calling the lawyers, you'd be wise to try less drastic steps first to get your point across. And if you're on the receiving end of a nasty letter from the lawyers, blog about it in a way that focuses on how it affects your rights, and make sure Slashdot gets to hear it.

but it stops future bad publicity (3)

walterbyrd (182728) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265553)

These lawsuits have a chilling effect on others who might want to expose wrong-doing.

Elected Officials (5, Insightful)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 6 years ago | (#21264999)

These are elected officials we are talking about. School board members are chosen by election. The rules for libel are far different for public figures than for private individuals. This might get interesting. The defendent's speech is political in nature so we're talking First Amendment issues here.

Re:Elected Officials (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265237)

It is much harder for a public figure to go after someone for libel, but does an elected official that most people don't even know count as a "public figure"? Calling all IANAL's out there in /. land.

Re:Elected Officials (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265465)

does an elected official that most people don't even know count as a "public figure"?

In most places, these people have more power than the rest of local government combined. They usually control over two-thirds of the town/city budget, they have the power to make the life of anyone with children a living hell, and they usually have so little oversight as to make them nearly bulletproof in a scandal.

Even if you don't have kids, you damned well better have an interest in what goes on with your local school board (unless you don't care how rapidly your excise and property taxes go up).

Re:Elected Officials (2, Interesting)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265381)

I think it's at least odd if not sad or offensive that the school budgets will be used to prosecute this even if school districts can't directly sue anyone. The fact that they are doing this makes me suspicious of their arguments. Not that it really surprises me, educators and school administrators sometimes are known to go on goofy power trips, but knowing nothing about this case, I should try to be fair about it. It's also possible that the parent just has some kind of axe to grind because of some perceived or minor offense.

Actual content of dispute? (2, Interesting)

stormguard2099 (1177733) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265011)

after I RTFA i didn't see where they mentioned the actual content in dispute. Could someone point out where this libel actually is on the site? I would like to read what GSID is actually trying to remove before I form an opinion on the matter.

why she posted (5, Funny)

carou (88501) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265117)

One might almost say, it sounds like Tetley's bitter.

She'd better be able to back up those accusations (4, Insightful)

GauteL (29207) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265163)

"falsifying budget numbers, using their positions for "personal gain," violating the Open Meetings Act and spying on employees,"

These are all very serious accusations of criminal behaviour from members of the school board. Unless Tetley has any proof of these accusations I can see why they could be considered libelous.

Whether or not it is good publicity to sue is another matter.

Re:She'd better be able to back up those accusatio (2, Insightful)

Yartrebo (690383) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265387)

Those aren't serious allegations. These are run of the mill things. Who doesn't fudge budgets? Who doesn't use their position to advance themselves or their relatives (ie., nepotism)? Who doesn't spy on their employees (ie., read employee email or go hunting for personal webpages)? I'm not sure what the Open Meeting Act is, but if it's anything like the Freedom of Information Act, who follows that to the letter?

The thing is, unless these administrators are angels (and they're probably human, not angel), the allegations are probably true. These are things people of average moral character do on a normal basis. People of good moral character usually don't do this, but then again, I doubt they'd make it into a management position. Management usually goes to 'yes' people, not people with strong morals.

Re:She'd better be able to back up those accusatio (1)

JoelKatz (46478) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265537)

As they come from a chronic speeder who fails to take seriously our great nation's speed limit laws, I see no reason to consider your argument seriously.

When will people learn... (0)

psychicsword (1036852) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265191)

Note: I am not a lawyer.
Just read the usual replies on a pro-microsoft comment and it is proof that this is ridiculous. When will people learn that I could accuse anyone of doing anything and it wouldn't necessarily be worthy of a law suit. Lets say I accuse Hilary Clinton of selling her soul to the devil, but I never put out conclusive proof that she did. Now if she provided conclusive proof that she didn't, I would be obligated to withdraw my remarks or people will assume I am just trying to ruin her reputation. The only time I personally think the suit would stick is if they publicly provided evidence against this and she continued accusing them, but that is just my opinion and I am not a lawyer.

morons in suits to impede freedom of speech? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21265241)

when the truth hurts, litigate?

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GISD Watch (0, Redundant)

sd790 (643354) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265307)

The site of the blog: http://gisdwatch.com/index.php [gisdwatch.com]

Blog Details (1)

HomeLights (1097581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265333)

I have not read the blog but did the poster mention at all that "This is expressly my OPINION"?? - I would think that the "opinion clause" would help CYA him from trouble. In a similar story, I remember when Dunkin Donuts was getting upset at a website/blog that had people posting all negative experiences about the food chain. They told the owner to cease and desist and yelled slander, etc. The owner of the blog/website did not back down because there was no merit to do so. It was his and thousands of posters opinion of their experience with the company. Eventually, Dunkin Donuts found the only way to stop the bleeding was to cut it off. They bought the website/blog from the owner and then shut it down.

Similiar issue (1)

stevedmc (1065590) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265521)

I had a similiar problem back when I was in high school. Back in 2000 I was a senior at Ponchatoula High School in Louisiana. I decided it would be fun to own www.ponchatoulahigh.com and make a parody of the school's real website which was something like www.i-55.com/tangischools/phs at the time.

I registered the name, made my parody site, and within 24 hours I wasn't allowed to use the computers at school. I was even restricted from using my assigned computer in my computer science class. As soon as the principle found out I was in her office and the person in charge of the parish (county) computer system for the school threatened to sue me.

Needless to say, I kept using the name www.ponchatoulahigh.com and I still own it today. They have never sued me and I lived happily every after.

I dont think a school should have the right to penalize a student for whatever activity occurs at his or her home. Plain and simple.

America (1)

Drakin020 (980931) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265527)

Land of the (Censored) home of the ...Is that a lite brite? AHHH!!!

Not trying to troll...but seriously come on people....

It's their sense of entitlement! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265573)

I have seen this too many times in too many places. People in power or in fame somehow believe they have an entitlement above others... actually, I have seen that in people without power and fame as well.

I would love to see this one go to court. I would love to see these anti-free-speech government employees ousted from their elected, self-serving positions.

When I read through the blogs, there are definitely some serious issues that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, there aren't enough state and federal officials to clear out the corruption. Just look at how long it has been taking the FBI to bring charges against people in Dallas. That couldn't happen soon enough either!

It's more than people doing secret back-room deals for their personal gain and benefit. It's that they do so with impunity and they believe they are somehow entitled to this! It's their sense of entitlement that really enrages me. The corruption itself is, more or less, an eventuality and in small doses, no one really cares that much. But the arrogance displayed in trying to skirt law while using public money to fund legal activities for personal legal attacks? Are the defendants allowed to use public money to defend against these attacks?

US public schools suck (1)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 6 years ago | (#21265657)

This dispute is hardly surprising if you know something about the background issues. For anyone interested, here's a link to a 20/20 report called "Stupid in America" [youtube.com]; a little over 40 minutes long, but very informative. After watching the report, it seems to me teacher's unions are mostly to blame; they don't take shit from anyone and resist making any changes at all to the system. All they ever seem to want is more money, even when it's clear to everyone else that private schools, and schools in other countries, can achieve far better results with a lot less. Unfortunately, most parents in the U.S. can't afford private schooling for their kids. IMHO, the U.S. public schooling system is a waste of tax dollars, it unforgivably condemns bright minds to lives of ignorance and manual labor, and I believe it's one of the main reasons why America is fast losing it's dominant economic position in the world today.
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