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High School Students, Alumni Face Repercussions for Twitter Account

24 Jul

On July 20, the Student Press Law Center had an interesting report on a Twitter account set up by several students and recent graduates of Worthington High School to gossip about classmates. According to the report, Worthington police said the creators of the account could face charges including terroristic threats, harassment and libel, in addition to discipline from the school. The SPLC has some great commentary on the limits of these potential disciplinary threats. Additional information is available at the Worthington Daily Globe.

Court of Appeals Roundup

2 Jul

The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued two unpublished opinions that included some speech related tidbits today.

In In the Matter of the Professional Engineering License Application of Michael P. Opela, Sr., Michael Opela appealed an administrative decision denying his application for state licensure as a professional engineer. As part of his appeal, he requested that the court “seal his application and the record of the administrative proceedings to protect his privacy and reputation.” The Court of Appeals declined to seal the record in the case, citing portions of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, and stating that “Case records on appeal are presumed public, absent several enumerated exceptions that are not applicable here.” Score one for public access to court records, albeit at the expense of Mr. Opela.

In  Timothy Jirak v. Philip Eichten, et al., an intra-family estate dispute, the court upheld, among other things, the plaintiff’s claim of defamation per se. The district court awarded the plaintiff $120,000. The bright side, for adamant free speech supporters, would be that the court declined to award  attorneys’ fees or punitive damages. The Court of Appeals cited Minn. Stat. 549.20, which states that punitive damages are permitted “only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others.”

Fugitive Senate Candidate Files Libel Suit

28 Jun

The Star Tribune is reporting that fugitive Minneapolis dentist and U.S. Senate candidate Jack Shepard (no, not this dude, this dude) sued the Huffington Post for libel because of a headline that labels him an arsonist.

According to the Strib, the suit was filed in federal court in St. Paul on Monday. Shepard, who is currently running for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, fled the country in 1982 while facing felony arson charges, but was apparently never convicted. He also has apparently never returned from Italy, which will make it difficult for him to press his case. For more background on Shepard, who strikes me as a very interesting person, see here.