Thursday, April 10, 2014
The Fifth Circuit has refused to grant a writ of mandamus allowing the Times-Picayune to keep private the names of anonymous individuals who commented on a 2008 article concerning Stacey Jackson, the former head of New Orleans Affordable Homeownership, a NOLA nonprofit, and an investigation into her tenure there. After her indictment, her attorney requested information concerning the identities of the posters. What makes the identities of the posters particularly vital to the defense is that there's some question about whether the anonymous commentators here might have been prosecutors or members of law enforcement. In March 2012 information surfaced that a former Assistant U.S. Attorney had been posting anonymously about another investigation, and he admitted he had posted anonymously about other cases. (There has been other fallout, including some that touched the prosecution of NOPD officers involved in the Danizer Bridge shootings, resulting in the grant of a new trial for the defendants).
The Times Picayune argued in its motion that requiring it to turn over the names of the commentators "insufficiently protects the right under the First Amendment to engage in anonymous speech." However, prosecutors in the case and Ms. Jackson's attorneys have argued that the comments might have been made by federal prosecutors prior to Ms. Jackson's indictment. The Fifth Circuit did not find that the trial court's balancing of the free speech rights of the commentators against the defendant's due process interests "was clearly and indisputably erroneous"; the information would be reviewed in camera.
U. S. District Judge Mary Ann Lemmon gave the paper until noon on April 10 to turn over the requested information.