Communications Firms in U.S.



PRSA’s pursuit of an anonymous staffer who criticized PRSA chief operating officer Catherine Bolton in an e-mail to the PRSA board, raises a remarkable number of legal, policy and PR issues.

According to details on the O’Dwyer’s website, PRSA filed a petition against Time Warner’s Road Runner Internet service for the release of information regarding the e-mailer’s identity. The mystery e-mailer,called “John Doe” in court papers, filed a motion to stop PRSA from learning his name. On May 27, 2005, Bolton defeated his motion; the PRSA board, however, did not.

The reason for all this commotion? PRSA and Bolton have stated they intend to sue the mystery e-mailer for defamation, and they want to know who he (or she) is.

Defamation claims can be extraordinarily difficult to bring, even in the best of circumstances. But in this case, especially so. Consider, for example: (1) the likelihood that such a communication would be considered “opinion” protected by the First Amendment; and (2) the likelihood that PRSA and Bolton would most certainly qualify as “limited-issue public figures,” for whom not mere negligence, but “actual malice” is the standard.

Also, while the element of damages may not prevent Bolton from stating a claim, it does directly relate to any possible award if her claim is successful. And what about the employment law implications of the fact that John Doe is a PRSA employee?

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