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Judge loses round in battle over Web site

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin was dealt a setback in her legal battle to uncover the identity of a local Internet gossip who posted derogatory comments about her in 1999.

The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a lower court was wrong to reject an appeal by the Allegheny County employee seeking to remain anonymous for comments posted on his Web site, "Grant Street 99."

The writer accused Melvin of lobbying then-Gov. Tom Ridge to appoint a particular local attorney to fill a judge vacancy in Common Pleas Court. The posting called Melvin's purported involvement "misconduct."

Melvin has denied the allegation.

In November 2000, Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. ordered Internet provider America Online to disclose the identity of the writer to lawyers for Melvin, who had filed a defamation lawsuit against him over the comments. The writer's identity was not to be made public.

The writer and the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union appealed to Superior Court, charging that Melvin first needs to establish that she was actually harmed before the courts could order the writer's identity revealed.

Superior Court quashed the appeal.

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld Wettick's order but said Superior Court must address the issue of whether Melvin's right to seek a remedy is more important than the writer's First Amendment right.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Nov. 21, 2003) The state Supreme Court, in an opinion Wednesday, said state Superior Court must decide whether the First Amendment rights of the author of an Internet Web site would be violated if he is forced to reveal his identity. A story in yesterday's editions said incorrectly that the court also upheld a lower court decision. The case involves a suit by former Common Pleas Judge Joan Orie Melvin over a comment on a Web site called "Grant Street 99."

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