FREE SPEECH --  Patterson City Attorney George Logan has filed a libel lawsuit against an anonymous group of
locals behind the Patterson IrriTator website, who refer to themselves
collectively and individually as Fred Ross, reports Kendall Wright in the Patterson Irrigator.

Logan’s
lawsuit, announced March 3 on the IrriTator Web site, claims that
several comments left on the Patterson Irrigator newspaper’s Web site in
2009 by the anonymous authors, calling Logan a “joke” and asserting
that he was “in the pocket” of developers, have damaged his professional
reputation.

The lawsuit was filed with the Merced Superior
Court in early January.

“We’re in the process of building a legal
team to protect the identity of blog authors and commentators,” said an
anonymous posting on the IrriTator Web site. “Many of you have fought
passionately to seek ethical solutions to some of our community
problems. 

“We will do our best to prevent King George from
stifling our speech.”

Logan said he will be using his personal
time and money for the suit.

"I am from the old school that
believes that people who call names should not hide

behind an
alias," he wrote in an e-mail. "I want these people to stand up and be
counted and to give the basis, if any, for their claims."

Any
money he is rewarded from the suit will be donated to charity, he said.

Since
its startup in 2008, the IrriTator has offered viewpoints and criticism
about the city’s leadership — specifically in regard to City Council
members — and the questions facing Patterson.

Some prominent
local residents — such as youth organizer Sergio Cuellar and former City
Council candidate Jeff Realini — have posted on the site using their
names, but the other writers have chosen to remain anonymous.

“Personally,
I think this is a scare tactic on his (Logan’s) part,” said Realini,
who maintains that he has not been active on the site in six months. “I
have my druthers that he doesn’t really have any ground to stand on with
this, especially with him being a public figure.”

California
Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel Jim Ewert also agreed
that Logan might have a tough time convincing a judge that the authors
intended to hurt his reputation with their comments.

Oftentimes,
similar claims from public officials can be hard to prove, because they
are viewed by judges as strategic lawsuits against public participation —
often called S.L.A.P.P. suits — aimed at silencing people or groups
because they have exercised their right to petition the government or
speak out on public issues, Ewert said.

“I don’t see either of
those statements as to be particularly provable, and I think that
attorney (Logan) will have a long road to hoe on those claims,” Ewert
said. “Quite frankly, he’s playing into the authors’ hands beautifully,
because this lawsuit is going to give them what they want — free
publicity.”