Thursday, September 23, 2010

Here's Your 'Comment' Assignment for Week of 9/27

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Coalinga grad loses MySpace rant lawsuit

Posted at 11:28 PM on Monday, Sep. 20, 2010

When a Coalinga High School principal sent a former student's rant to the local newspaper, his conduct was "outrageous," a Fresno County Superior Court jury ruled Monday.

But, the jury ruled, the action didn't damage her.

The mixed verdict ended Cynthia Moreno's lawsuit and her hopes to make Roger Campbell and the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District pay for his actions.

In December 2006, Moreno sued Campbell and the district, claiming she received death threats after her "An Ode to Coalinga" was published by the hometown newspaper.

The Coalinga Record obtained a copy of Moreno's rambling essay from Campbell, then the principal of Coalinga High School and now superintendent of the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District.

Jurors deliberated a little more than two hours before reaching a verdict.

On the first question -- "Was the conduct of Roger Campbell and the Coalinga Huron School District outrageous?" -- jurors voted 10-2 that it was. But on the second -- "Was the conduct of Roger Coleman and the Coalinga Huron School District a substantial factor in causing damage to the Plaintiff?" -- jurors voted 9-3 that it wasn't. Civil cases do not require unanimous verdicts.

After the verdict was read, Moreno left the courtroom in tears and rushed past reporters. But her Berkeley attorney, Paul Kleven, responded to an e-mail request for comment.

"We were happy that the jury agreed that Mr. Campbell's conduct was outrageous," he wrote. "We also felt that we had proven that Mr. Campbell's outrageous conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm to the family, but ... the jury unfortunately did not agree with us."

Fresno attorney Paul Auchard, who represented Campbell and the school district, declined to comment other than to say "the verdict speaks for itself."

Campbell could not be reached to comment.

Moreno graduated from Coalinga High in 2002. Now 26, she is a reporter in Fresno working for the Spanish-language newspaper Vida en el Valle, which is published by The Bee.

In court last week, she defended the essay, which criticized her hometown and its residents.

When Moreno wrote the essay, she was a 21-year-old student at the University of California at Berkeley. She told jurors it was simply her opinions about former classmates who picked on her for being a chubby, nerdy girl who liked school, and was not meant as a "slap in the face" to the city or its residents.

After she enrolled at Cal in the spring of 2003, however, she lost weight, and her new look caught the attention of Coalinga residents when she returned for a high school football game in the fall of 2005.

When she returned to Cal, Moreno said, she stewed over the experience, and then wrote about it. The essay appeared on her MySpace social network page on Oct. 3, 2005.

Almost immediately, she started to get criticism by e-mail, she told jurors. Her younger sister, a freshman at Coalinga High, was getting harassed because of it.

Six days later, Moreno took her essay off the site.

But by then students and teachers had circulated copies of it at Coalinga High. Campbell faxed it to the Coalinga Record, which published the essay without Moreno's permission.

Shortly afterward, Moreno said, she received more e-mails that cursed and threatened her.

Moreno sued Campbell, the Coalinga-Huron Unified School District and the Coalinga Record, alleging invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress in December 2006. The following year, most of claims were dismissed.

Her lawyer appealed to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno, which ruled in April 2009 that she could pursue a narrower claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Campbell and the school district. But, the court said, she would have to persuade a jury that Campbell's actions were "extreme and outrageous."

In the ruling, the appellate panel said she couldn't sue for invasion of privacy, saying Moreno gave up that claim when she posted the writing on MySpace.

Some First Amendment experts had feared that if Moreno was successful, it would have a chilling effect on the news-gathering process because the lawsuit went after Campbell for bringing the newspaper an authentic piece of information that was public.

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Marly said...

What people do not understand about posting things online is that it is out there! Everyone can read it and it never goes away. Even if the post is deleted, the link for the post still exists. Cynthia Moreno posted a rant to a public website where she knew it would be read by everyone and anyone. She might have not expect for her High School Principal to read it but she needs to understand that the chance of someone you do not expect to read your work is possible!

At least the principals actions were considered a little crazy but all in all, the internet is public grounds! You do not post negative thoughts about your job because your employers could possibly see that, and hey get fired!

Be careful what you write online because you never know who might read it!

Rachel said...

While I do think that the principal's actions were somewhat appalling, I also think that Cynthia Moreno has to take responsibility for whatever negative comments she made about her high school.

She may have thought that because she was posting her essay on her MySpace and not publishing it on an online news source, that it would remain private...but regardless of whether its a social networking site or a news site, the internet is the internet, and all content is essentially public.

Maybe this will be a wake-up call reminding all of us to watch what we post on the internet!

Brian Brause said...

I sympathize with Moreno but at the same time, I don't understand why she didn't think this could happen. As a social media user, I understand that what I put on the internet has a very high chance to be seen by other people. Not only that, but I understand the risks of the people misinterpreting what I post and getting royally pissed off.

Moreno posted her rant on myspace (who uses myspace nowadays anyway??), and I'm assuming she didn't expect to get so much publicity. I'm sure the principal was ticked off by what she said, but I don't really understand why he sent it to the paper... Which brings us to the small town paper. Why did they choose to publish it? Is there a point or was it a slow news day? I mean seriously... Why would a newspaper publish a former students angry rant? Who cares? How does this effect the town? Are there consequences for what she wrote for the school? I don't see any... I feel like I have more questions than answers here.

miles nishioka said...

Maybe Thomas Hobbes is right about us all after all. We are all selfish human beings that can only live in a society by social contract.
Moreno really wasn't smart by putting that in a public space and the principal was basically just being disrespectful.

kate darden said...

Though Moreno has the right to be upset, I think it is naive of her to believe she would receive any compensation for something she posted on a public site. I have to agree with Marly, when you post something online it is out there for everyone to see. People think that things they post on facebook and myspace are somehow protected by privacy settings, but people need to realize they are posting something on a public and very open site.

I feel like all parties were at fault here and no one benefitted from any of the actions taken.

Elizabeth said...

I do think the principle's actions were outrageous and not how an adult in charge of a school should act. However, Cynthia Moreno posted something online. Whatever is online is there forever and for everyone to see. By her posting a story on myspace she gave the public the right to read it and do what they want with it. It is very important to think before you put anything online because ANYONE and EVERYONE can see what you put out there. However, no one should be bullied/harassed this much. The principle should have acted a bit more mature than spreading around Moreno's myspace post but he did not do anything illegal.

daniellegayden said...

Everything one posts on the internet is there to stay.

People still do not grasp this concept.

If someone does not want something read, do NOT post it on the internet.