Free speech was the issue Thursday morning as attorneys in a civil suit debated the right of a blogger to post accusations against a Corvallis police officer.
The defendant in the suit is Tim Smith of Corvallis, who administers the "Benton County Crusader" website, on which he routinely writes about local law enforcement, usually in a critical light.
Corvallis police officer Jim Crain is a frequent subject of Crain's posts, but he alleges that they go past fair criticism into legally actionable defamation. Crain filed suit against Smith in June of 2009, alleging that Smith posted "false, offensive, often profane and defamatory statements" about Crain and other police officers.
The complaint also accused Cecilia Carey, a former girlfriend of Crain's, of conspiring with Smith to defame Crain by claiming the officer had committed felonies, was not morally fit to serve as a police officer and had "engaged in other unprofessional or dishonest conduct."
In his complaint, Crain is seeking $25,000 to compensate for lost overtime and benefits, $500,000 for lost earning capacity and pain and suffering, plus unspecified punitive damages.
On March 3, Smith filed a motion to strike all allegations against him, citing Oregon's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statutes. The legislation protects certain speech from lawsuits.
Thursday, the attorneys argued the motion in front of Judge Locke Williams.
John Rich, who is representing Smith, told the court that Smith's statements about Crain are protected by anti-SLAPP legislation because they were on a topic of public interest - the fitness of a public servant - and were published in a public place.
Crain's attorney, Jeffrey Boiler of Eugene, participated via phone. He alleged that Smith's postings are "a private vendetta and therefore private interest" (rather than public).
He also said that statements made by Smith and Carey led to Crain being repeatedly placed on administrative leave while the Corvallis Police Department investigated, as required, what he said proved to be unfounded complaints.
Williams did not make a ruling on Smith's motion Thursday and is reviewing the documents in the case.
Carey's attorney, Erin Olson, argued that Carey's statements were made to law enforcement during the course of an investigation and therefore also are protected by anti-SLAPP laws. Williams agreed, and Crain now has to show proof that he can prevail.
No new hearing date has been set.