EDITORIAL: The Hoboken Bloggers Ruling
Defamation? In local politics?!? No way…
Anyone who pays even the slightest bit of attention to Hoboken politics will tell you that it’s absurdly acrimonious—and likely by design. It’s easier to control things when the atmosphere is so toxic that it’s downright off-putting.
Any move, any initiative, any effort is endlessly scrutinized by countless wannabe Machiavellis—and because there are a lot of “Big Fish” packed into this little pond, someone has to either swim out of the way or get eaten alive. This rings true for either side of the political spectrum.
In a place like Hoboken, nothing fosters apathy like actually getting involved.
All too often in this town, defamation IS local politics—which is why the trial of two local bloggers was so important to the overall political landscape. Accused of defamation, Nancy Pincus and Roman Brice saw their case dismissed, as the plaintiffs—Lane Bajardi and his wife Kimberly—failed to make a sufficient case against the defendants, according to Hudson County Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Arre.
“New Jersey has a particularly high regard for free speech,” said Arre. The ongoing, high-profile involvement of the plaintiffs in Hoboken’s political arena essentially make them public figures, according to the judgement. That being the case, the tenets of free speech supersede the privacy of the individuals, should those individuals consistently involve themselves with public affairs. “Political speech is subject to the highest possible public protection,” added Arre.
In an article on PolitickerNJ.com, Thomas Healy, a professor of law at Seton Hall School of Law who focuses on the First Amendment, says, “There is a certain amount of protection for defamatory statements about public officials or public figures. In order for that person to successfully sue you, they have to show that you knew that the statements were false, or that you acted with reckless disregard as to whether or not they were false.”
The Hoboken blogosphere can be an ugly place. It’s a rabbit hole of name-calling and hiding behind avatars while taking potshots at people and policy. It’s no place for the thin-skinned, nor is it necessarily a productive arena. It’s an echo chamber for like-minded individuals to engage in a battle of wits (sometimes woefully unarmed), where there is plenty of he-said/she-said, and never a clear winner.
Relative to the case in question, the lawsuit was undermined by the plaintiffs’ demonstrated history of vociferous involvement in Hoboken political posturing. Basically, the ruling in favor of the defendants was the judge’s way of saying, “play dirty, get muddy.”
The bigger picture here is the motivation behind the lawsuit. “The Land of the Free” is notoriously litigious. We sue EVERYBODY. Litigation as a form of intimidation can bring us into a pretty dark arena—even for Hoboken.
“Threats of lawsuits are often used to try to censor free speech, but that’s what the Constitution protects against,” says Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark Fred Askin, in his interview with PolitickerNJ.com’s Mark Bonamo. “It takes an important role in politics, local and federal, all over the country, not just in New Jersey.”
Think about that for a second… if you have to start calculating potential lawsuits every time you engage in a political discussion, then we’ve more or less privatized Big Brother.
Of course in a perfect world, the takeaway from Tuesday’s ruling would be that the First Amendment is alive and well here in Hoboken—now please use it responsibly.
In a perfect world, Hoboken’s “political operatives” could forgo the personal attacks or other inane vitriol and focus on meaningful discourse to enact or oppose policy—based on their own personal beliefs, rather than regurgitated spoon-fed script.
In a perfect world, Hoboken’s political scene would seek to foster a climate of inclusion, where concerned citizens could present ideas without fear of scathing scrutiny.
We don’t live in a perfect world—we live in Hoboken.
Meanwhile, the plantiffs have indicated that they plan to appeal.