Nation briefs 1/19/14

Published:

GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- A federal appeals court ruled Friday that bloggers and the public have the same First Amendment protections as journalists when sued for defamation: If the issue is of public concern, plaintiffs have to prove negligence to win damages.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in a defamation lawsuit brought by an Oregon bankruptcy trustee against a Montana blogger who wrote online that the court-appointed trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case.

The appeals court ruled that the trustee was not a public figure, which could have invoked an even higher standard of showing the writer acted with malice, but the issue was of public concern, so the negligence standard applied.

Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press said the ruling affirms what many have long argued: Standards set by a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc., apply to everyone, not just journalists.

"It's not a special right to the news media," he said. "So it's a good thing for bloggers and citizen journalists and others."

Crystal L. Cox, a blogger from Eureka, Mont., now living in Port Townshend, Wash., was sued for defamation by Bend attorney Kevin Padrick and his company, Obsidian Finance Group LLC, after she made posts on several websites she created accusing them of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and other illegal activities.

The appeals court noted Padrick and Obsidian were hired by Summit Accommodators to advise them before filing for bankruptcy, and that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court later appointed Padrick trustee in the Chapter 11 case. The court added that Summit had defrauded investors in its real estate operations through a Ponzi scheme.

A jury in 2011 had awarded Padrick and Obsidian $2.5 million.

Wildfire reduced in size: A wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles was a smoldering shadow of its former self, but hundreds of residents of a foothill neighborhood remained evacuated and extremely dangerous fire conditions were expected to last well into Saturday. Another wave of evacuees returned Friday evening to their homes, this time in Azusa, 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, a day after their neighbors in Glendora did the same. But one Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove remained too close to the remaining fire, so its residents would have to spend another night away, Los Angeles County emergency officials said. The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, according to early assessments.

Wouldn't make cake for gay wedding: Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries has determined that a suburban Portland, Ore. bakery violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple by refusing to bake a cake for the women's wedding. Agency spokesman Charlie Burr said Friday that investigators found evidence that Sweet Cakes by Melissa unlawfully discriminated against the couple based on their sexual orientation. The Oregonian reports (http://is.gd/e9sPT4 ) the state will oversee a conciliation process to see if the parties can reach a settlement.

Ultrasround law ruled unconstitutional: A North Carolina law requiring women who want an abortion to have an ultrasound and then have a medical provider describe the image to them is a violation of constitutional free-speech rights, a federal judge ruled Friday. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ruled that states don't have the power to force a health care provider to be the bearer of what she called an "ideological message in favor of carrying a pregnancy to term."Eagles, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama, had put the law on hold a few months after the Republican-led state legislature passed it in 2011.

Court upholds transgender operation: A federal appeals court in Boston, Mass. on Friday upheld a judge's ruling granting a taxpayer-funded sex change operation for a transgender inmate serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, saying receiving medically necessary treatment is a constitutional right that must be protected "even if that treatment strikes some as odd or unorthodox." U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled in 2012 that the state Department of Correction must provide sex reassignment surgery for Michelle Kosilek, who was born Robert Kosilek and is serving a life sentence for the killing of his wife in 1990. The Department of Correction challenged the ruling, arguing Kosilek has received adequate treatment for gender identity disorder, including female hormones, laser hair removal and psychotherapy.

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