“Web Based Comments Concern a Matter of Public Interest”

The preliminary ruling for Grenier & Grenier v. Taylor & Grenier is now public, and it is so far a triumph for the rights of bloggers and abuse survivors everywhere. While there is still a hearing tomorrow, where both sides make oral arguments before the judge, about 90% of the time the preliminary ruling is what will prevail after the hearing. If you aren’t familiar with SLAPP procedures, this is a good summary.

the_simpsons.10x02.the_wizard_of_evergreen_terraceThe tentative ruling of the Honorable Paul Vortmann is as follows:

” The court finds that Defendants’ Web activities are protected under CCP 425.16(e)(3) and finds that Plaintiff Bob Grenier is a Limited Purpose Public Figure.  The hearing on this motion is continued to April 9, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. in Department 7 on the issue of malice pursuant to the stipulation of the parties submitted on January 15, 2013.”

Vortmann determined that, while child abuse allegations are to be taken seriously, that alone does not protect Internet speech. Internet speech must contribute to a public debate:

“It cannot be disputed that allegations of child abuse by members of the clergy have been regularly in the news both in this country and around the world.  However, in order for Defendants’ Internet comments to be protected, they must not only refer to a subject of widespread public interest, they must in some way contribute to the public debate.  Wilbanks v. Wolk (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 883, 898.”

The main focus of this lawsuit, the Calvary Chapel Abuse blog, was determined to fit this criteria. The blog does concern matters of public interest:

“Defendants’ Web blogs and postings are primarily focused on allegations of wrongdoing by Plaintiff Bob Grenier.  Some of Defendants’ statements do, however, include references to churches other than Cavalry Chapel Visalia and include discussion of claims made by other persons against different Cavalry Chapel locations such as Costa Mesa and others.  Defendants include in some of their critical comments statements that they want to ensure that members of all Cavalry Chapel congregations take steps to properly vet their leaders and account for church funds to avoid questions of abuse and financial mismanagement.  Based on the reasoning in Gilbert, the court finds that Defendants’ Web based comments concern a matter of public interest for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute.”

Vortmann concludes with this zinger:

“Allegations of conduct which would violate the trust his church members and members of the public place in him as a church leader are matters of public discussion or controversy.”

As Dee Parsons from The Wartburg Watch aptly put it on Twitter,

“Bloggers 3, Pastors 0.”

Highlights from today’s #WhoWouldJesusSue Twitter feed:

Picture 1

 

Read the full text of the preliminary hearing:

Calvary Chapel Abuse

Spiritual Sounding Board

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