Judge sues paper over probe of anonymous online comments

Ohio: “A state court judge demands $50 million from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, claiming it wrongfully exposed her and her daughter as the source of online comments about the judge’s cases, including a criminal prosecution over the murder of 11 women. Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold and her daughter, Sydney, seek damages for fraud, defamation, tortious interference, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy. ” [Courthouse News, Solove/Concur Op] Earlier here.


  • Regardless of whether a lawsuit is warranted, the newspaper may have crossed an ethical line.

    People thought they were posting anonymously, but it turns out reporters at the newspaper had access to the data people entered when creating their account, including their email address.

    A reporter investigating certain postings on the Web site was able to look in the database and see that the email address associated with the poster belonged to the judge.

    The company that runs the Web site has since changed the access permissions to prevent reporters from being able to see this data. Most other newspapers do not allow reporters to have access to this data.

  • Really, Joseph? The newspaper violated their ethical obligation? The last I check, at least here in Virginia, judges aren’t allowed to make extra-judicial statements, so maybe you should be a little bit more concerned about that.

  • Well, Timothy is correct. It is far more important to expose this judge’s anonymous on line comments about her own cases. This is what newspapers should be doing. The judge could be in some serious trouble. Should have left well enough alone.

  • The other questions that also should be asked are:
    >> How did the daughter access her mother’s online (courthouse) account [if it was the daughter that wrote some or all of the entries in question]?
    >> Does Ohio have some version of anti-SLAPP [and whether it applies to government officials or judges]?
    >> Could the convictions (if any) in the cases commented on be tossed out due to judicial prejudice?
    >> And, can Her Honor be dismissed from the bench if the “Amos and Andy” remark came from her or because someone accessed her online account to make such a racial comment?

  • Maybe I missed something, but from what I read, the reporter simply Googled ‘lawmiss’ and discovered the link. I didn’t see the part where they used confidential info.

  • In what sense was she “anonymous”? She apparently used her own email address to create the account. If you’re trying to be anonymous while making ethically dubious comments on a public forum then you might start by not giving out your real email address. It’s rather foolish to expect there to be a “chinese wall” between the editors charged with policing a forum and the reporters who work for the same entity.

  • I wouldn’t expect an attorney, or for that matter any other normal person, actually to read a privacy policy, but perhaps the online ethicists should have a gander at the Plain Dealer’s privacy policy:


    [W]e reserve the right to use the information we collect about your computer, which may at times be able to identify you, for any lawful business purpose, including without limitation to help diagnose problems with our servers, to gather broad demographic information, and to otherwise administer our Website.

    In essence the Plain Dealer’s privacy policy is that users have none. Now it may be disingenuous to call it a privacy policy, but Judge Saffold probably wouldn’t hesitate to rule against another plaintiff who admitted that the fine print was there, but she never bothered to read it.