A panel of three Judges of the Indiana Court of Appeals will hear oral argument Monday afternoon, December 12, 2011, starting at 1 PM in the Indiana Supreme Courtroom, in a media law case of first impression in Indiana.
I’ve previously written in this blog about The Indianapolis Star v. Jeffrey M. Miller, et al., Case No. 49A02-1103-PL-234. The novel question is whether and under what circumstances a litigant can compel a non-party newspaper to disclose the identity of an internet user who posted anonymous comments to a news story published in the newspaper’s online edition. Courts in other jurisdictions that have addressed the question have followed a multi-part standard adopted or modified from Dendrite International v. Doe, No. A-2774-00T3, 775 A.2d 776, N.J. App. Div. (July 11, 2001).
The Indianapolis Star is appealing a Marion County Superior Court order requiring the newspaper to comply with the plaintiffs’ subpoena demanding the identity of an unnamed person who posted under the pseudonym, “DownWithTheColts.” In the underlying lawsuit, Plaintiffs Jeffrey and Cynthia Miller allege that Mr. Miller’s former employer, Junior Achievement, Junior Achievement’s current president (Miller’s successor), and others defamed him by accusing him of financial mismanagement (or worse) in connection with certain Junior Achievement projects. The Indianapolis Star covered the controversy and its online publication of its news stories attracted a number of anonymous, online comments.
In opposing the subpoena, the Indianapolis Star has invoked the Journalists’ Shield Law, limitations on third-party discovery, and constitutional protections for anonymous speech under both the First Amendment and Article I, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution. Courts have recognized that anonymity does have value, and those who comment on public controversies often have legitimate reasons for remaining anonymous.