WASHINGTON — A colleague of the late conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart is asking a federal court of appeals to throw out a defamation case brought against him by former government employee Shirley Sherrod, saying the lawsuit violates the blogger’s right to freedom of speech.
Sherrod was ousted from her job as an Agriculture Department rural development official in 2010 after Breitbart posted an edited video of Sherrod, who is black, supposedly making racist remarks. She sued Breitbart, his employee Larry O’Connor and an unnamed defendant for defamation and emotional distress after USDA officials asked her to resign and the video ignited a racial firestorm. Sherrod’s lawyers say the unnamed defendant is the person whom they believe passed the video on to Breitbart, though the person’s identity remains unknown.
Breitbart died unexpectedly a year ago, and his status in the case is unclear as his family does not appear to have notified the court of an estate that can be sued.
The case argued before the court of appeals Friday is one of the first high-profile federal lawsuits to test the freedom of speech rights of bloggers. Backed by large news organizations including the New York Times Co., Washington Post Co. and Dow Jones & Company, Inc., who have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, O’Connor’s lawyers argued to have the case dismissed under a District of Columbia statute that aims to prevent the silencing of critics through lawsuits. A federal district court judge rejected their motion to dismiss, citing timing and jurisdictional issues, prompting the appeal.
The lawyers told the court of appeals that O’Connor and Breitbart, before he died, stood by the content, saying the blog post was opinion.
Read more at Official Wire. By Mary Clare Jalonick.
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