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Professor Gets Chance to Clear His Name at Trial

The Washingtonienne story tarted out like those impossible blog rags-to-riches fables that many of us lawyers dream about:  girl starts blog, girl's blog gets high profile notice, girl gets Dooce'd and finally, girl gets major book deal. But as many of us already know, the story of this particular girl, Jessica Cutler, ends with a different twist:  Girl gets sued for $20 million by her, quite literally, overexposed paramour, Robert Steinbuch, whose sexual escapades with Cutler were graphically described on her blog. Though referenced as RS in Cutler's posts, Steinbuch claimed that those who knew him could readily identify him through his initials, and as a result, his good name was besmirched.  Now, Steinbuch's case is headed for trial.

Opinionistas, aka Melissa Lafsky (and another girl blogging success story) shares her analysis  of the Steinbuch case in this post, Sex, Bloggers & Privacy:  Let the Lawsuits Begin. Lafsky views the case as another in a line of recent court cases that tackle the issue of where to draw the line between bloggers' First Amendment rights and individual privacy concerns. At the same time, she notes that Judge Friedman seems more focused on Steinbuch's common sense, rather than the loftier principles in the case. From Lafsky's post: 

Perhaps the most heartening news for Cutler is presiding Judge Paul Friedman's statement to both sides: "I don't know why we're here in federal court to begin with ... I don't know why this guy thought it was smart to file a lawsuit and lay out all of his private, intimate details."

Volokh also wonders whether it's possible for Steinbuch to restore his name.  Like Judge Friedman, he writes:

Nothing in this lawsuit will "restore [Steinbuch's] good name." In fact, to the extent that the original blog besmirched Steinbuch's good name, the extra publicity created by the lawsuit will only besmirch that name further.

I, too, tend to believe that Steinbuch has brought the added publicity on himself.  After all, I'd never heard of him until all of the press generated by this lawsuit. Or maybe it's just all about the money, perhaps Steinbuch really just wants a piece of Cutler's good fortune that he inadvertently helped to create. I can understand sacrificing First Amendment rights to protect others' privacy. But I hope the court won't cut back on the First Amendment to protect a law professor from a lapse of judgment or his own sour grapes -- which is what seems to be driving this lawsuit far more than an innocent desire to vindicate one's name. 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on December 29, 2006 at 04:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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