A Brooklyn appellate panel overruled a lower court’s orders to disclose the identity of an anonymous blogger whose comments during a hard-fought local election for Westchester County Legislature were called defamatory by a losing candidate.
In two separate rulings arising from the same controversy, the Appellate Division, Second Department, on Dec. 26 reversed pre-action disclosure orders to identify a blogger named Q-Tip who referred to “downright criminal actions” in a post entitled “Would You Buy a Used Car From These Men?” on a website called “Watch Croton.”
Westchester County Legislature candidate Susan Konig argued the challenged statements damaged her campaign and reputation. She brought one action to compel the website to divulge information about the identity of its administrator and Q-Tip, and one that pressed for Q-Tip’s identity from WordPress.com, a site offering software to launch blogs. Q-Tip intervened in that action.
Westchester County Supreme Court Justice Orazio Bellantoni (See Profile) granted the pre-action disclosure in separate May and October 2012 rulings. The appellate panel reversed both decisions.
Noting the statements at issue occurred in a “sharply contested election,” the panel said “a reasonable reader would have believed that the generalized reference to ‘downright criminal actions’…was merely conveying” Q-Tip’s opinions “and was not a factual accusation of criminal conduct.” The panel rejected assertions that other portions of disputed statements rose to defamation per se.
Justices Peter Skelos (See Profile), Ruth Balkin (See Profile), Plummer Lott (See Profile) and Sylvia Hinds-Radix (See Profile) decided Matter of Konig v. WordPress.com, 2012-10814 and Matter of Konig v. CSC Holdings, 2012-06490.
Amanda Nelson, Edward Hayum and Jason Beckerman of Cozen O’Connor represented Q-Tip and the Watch Croton website.
Peter Schuyler and Roseann Schuyler of Kitson & Schuyler of Croton-on-Hudson represented Konig.