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Blogger Fires Back: claims Judge overstepped legal bounds by not extending her press protections

FREEHOLD — A Superior Court judge in Freehold overstepped his bounds and ignored previous court rulings when he ruled a Washington state woman, who posted online comments about the pornography industry, is not a media representative and can be sued for defamation, her attorney argued in new court filings.

Shellee Hale, a private investigator and blogger, is entitled to a reconsideration of a recent opinion because of several legal errors committed by the trial court judge, Princeton attorney Jeffrey Pollock contends in a 53-page motion filed last week.

Pollock is seeking a reconsideration of the June 30 ruling by Judge Louis Locascio that paved the way for Too Much Media LLC of Freehold to sue Hale for defamation.

“The trial court’s decision that Shellee and her confidential sources are not protected by the newsperson’s privilege is palpably incorrect, irrational and irreconcilable with the evidence presented,” Pollock wrote in his motion.

Too Much Media, which supplies software to online adult entertainment websites, sued Hale in June 2008 alleging she defamed the firm by claiming its principals, John Albright and Charles Berrebbi, threatened her and others.

In preparation of its case, TMM sought to take Hale’s deposition. Anticipating TMM’s attorney would ask her to reveal the sources of the threat allegations and other information about her online postings, Hale sought to have the suit dismissed or to have the protection of the New Jersey Shield Law from disclosing her sources.

At a hearing before Locascio in April, Hale said she spent months gathering information about a security breach of TMM’s software. She contends she was preparing to publish an article about the breach for the online magazine, Pornafia, she started in 2006 to report to the public information about technical and criminal violations in the pornography industry. She said she has not published the article because of the alleged threats and the lawsuit.

Because Locascio retired shortly after issuing the ruling, the matter goes to a new judge.

TMM attorney Joel Kreizman of Ocean Township argued Hale’s comments about the company are not protected by the shield law because they were posted on online adult entertainment forums. He contended Hale was not working as a journalist when she posted the comments and questioned whether she ever intended to publish the breach story about TMM.

Locascio ruled Hale, who holds a respiratory therapy degree and a private investigator’s license, “is neither a journalist nor a member of the media: she is a private person with unexplained motives for her postings.”

In his motion for reconsideration, Pollock argued Locascio used a narrow definition for journalist and media when other courts have used a broader view to extend the shield protection to an editor gathering unsolicited letters, to an insurance industry trade publication and to a reality television show’s video footage that was never aired or published.

Pollock argued also Locascio should not have subjected Hale to a hearing. He contended shield law hearings are only held for criminal matters, not in a civil case.

Kreizman said Pollock’s arguments would be better directed to the Appellate Division. A motion for reconsideration, he said, is to bring to the court’s attention matters that it overlooked or failed to consider.

“He’s looking to reargue the whole matter because Judge Locascio’s retired. That’s why they have an Appellate Division,” he said. “The judge ruled — and for good reason — Shellee Hale is not believable.”

Superior Court Judge Daniel Waldman is scheduled to hear the matter in Freehold Sept. 11.

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