Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
A federal judge recently found that a Montana blogger could not claim protections afforded mainstream journalists, and that ruling led to a $2.5-million defamation judgment against the blogger.
News outlets have reported that the ruling, by U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez of Oregon, has implications for bloggers across the country. In fact, the story hit close to home here recently when I had an e-conversation with a prominent figure in the progressive blogosphere. This was a gentleman I do not know well, but I have admired his work from afar for years, and he stated that his organization now might be at heightened risk because of the Montana blogger's case.
That's when I decided Legal Schnauzer needed to provide clarification on this issue. It's true that Judge Hernandez' ruling might set off a chain of events that someday could have broad implications for non-traditional journalists. But that process could take 10 years or more, and Hernandez' finding could be completely overturned along the way. For now, the ruling has implications for only one blogger--and that's Crystal L. Cox, the Montana woman who was on the wrong end of the $2.5-million judgment.
In fact, the outcome might not even have much impact on Cox. She has stated that she doesn't have the necessary funds to pay the judgment. And Kevin Padrick, the Oregon lawyer who sued Cox, acknowledges that he is not likely to receive much, if any, of the judgment.
So what should the public make of the Crystal L. Cox ruling? In my judgment, not a whole lot. Should people pay attention to Crystal L. Cox and her work as a citizen journalist? In my judgment, they should.
Cox, a feisty resident of Eureka, Montana, bills herself as an investigative blogger, real estate broker/owner, and real estate whistleblower, among other things. She blogs at a host of sites, including crystallcox.com, crystalcox.com, investigativeblogger.com, industrywhistleblower.com, and obsidianfinancesucks.com.
Reporting on Obsidian Finance Group landed Cox in legal hot water. Obsidian is based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and according to its Web site, the firm "is particularly adept at finding unique financial and structuring solutions to the most difficult problems." Kevin Padrick, a lawyer by training, is a senior principal and co-founder of Obsidian.
Padrick served as a trustee in a bankruptcy case involving Summit Accommodators, a company that "helped property owners conduct real estate transactions in a way to limit taxes." Summit apparently was not above board in its activities. Three executives face federal fraud and money laundering indictments.
Cox determined that Padrick was not above board either. In a post dated December 22, 2010, she referred to Padrick as a "corrupt thug, thief, and a dirty lawyer"--and that was just in the headline. This is from the body of the post:
Kevin Padrick of Obsidian Finance LLC is a Criminal, he has broken many laws in the last 2 years to do with the Summit 1031 case and regardless of the guilt of the Summit 1031 principals, Kevin Padrick is a THUG and a Thief hiding behind the Skirt tails of a corrupt un-monitored bankruptcy court system and protected by Corrupt Bend DA and Corrupt Bend Oregon Judges.- Advertisement -
Was Cox' reporting on target? I'm not sure, but I've read enough public documents from bankruptcy court here in Birmingham to make me think these proceedings often are rife with corruption.
Did Cox get careless with her reporting? Did she come to sweeping conclusions that she could not back up? That's possible. Cox writes on so many different Web sites that it's difficult to make an assessment of her reporting. She appears to have some ability as a researcher, but she makes frequent use of inflammatory language and some of her work is written in a disjointed style, on a complicated topic, making it hard to determine what she has or has not proven.