Commentary

Cleveland Plain Dealer Settles With Judge It Unmasked

One of the most unusual privacy-related cases of the last year pitted Shirley Strickland Saffold, a sitting judge in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, against the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which allegedly unmasked her as a prolific anonymous commenter.

Saffold alleged that the paper violated its own privacy policy by revealing in a March 2010 article that someone using her email account had posted comments to 80 stories under the pseudonym "lawmiss." She sued the paper as well as its editor, Susan Goldberg, and parent company, Advance Publications.

Late last week the case settled for an undisclosed amount. The settlement occurred less than three weeks after a trial judge denied a motion by the newspaper and its parent company to dismiss the case.

Though the terms remain secret, an official from Advance Internet -- a Plain Dealer affiliate -- reportedly said that the company had instituted new measures aimed at preventing the newspaper's editors from learning commenters' identities. "It was not our intention to make this information available to The Plain Dealer, and we have taken steps to prevent this from happening again," John Hassell, vice president of content at Advance Internet, reportedly said.

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The article that unmasked Saffold back in March revealed that lawmiss had commented on pending legal cases, including a capital murder trial. At the time, the newspaper reported that it only investigated the identity of lawmiss after someone using that screenname sent in a post dealing with the mental health of a relative of reporter Jim Ewinger.

Then-editor Susan Goldberg argued that the judge's identity was newsworthy. "What if it ever came to light that someone using the e-mail of a sitting judge made comments on a public Web site about cases she was hearing, and we did not disclose it?" she said at the time.

It might be understandable that Goldberg had the impulse to publish information about Saffold. Still, you'd think that someone at the paper would have stopped and considered the dangers of revealing a commenter's name after leading people to believe that their posts were anonymous.

1 comment about "Cleveland Plain Dealer Settles With Judge It Unmasked ".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from 2007ac.com, 2017ac.com network, January 3, 2011 at 9:06 p.m.

    Whatever I came here to say pales in comparison to Paula Lynn's comment. Great stuff.

    It also spotlights the "First, let's do the worst thing possible" disease that has grown right alongside the internet.

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