Mpls. blogger ordered to pay $60K in defamation case

The Minneapolis blogger accused of defaming former community organizer Jerry Moore must pay $60,000 in damages, a jury decided on Friday.

John Hoff, who goes by the nickname Johnny Northside, was sued for a blog post he wrote in June 2009 after he learned that Moore was hired by the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center. On his blog, Hoff accused Moore of being involved in a high-profile mortgage fraud case, even though Moore was never charged.

Moore filed a civil lawsuit against Hoff, in which he claimed that the university had fired him a day after the blog post.

On Friday, a Hennepin County jury ruled that Hoff's statement was true, but found that Hoff intentionally interfered with Moore's employment contract at the University of Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported. The jury awarded Moore $35,000 in damages for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress.

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Paul Godfread, Hoff's attorney, reached Friday afternoon, said he will likely appeal the ruling.

"We're definitely happy that the jury found that he hadn't said anything false," Godfread said. "For us, that's very helpful."

Hoff could not be reached for comment. Godfread said Hoff was out of town and he hasn't spoken with him today.

Jill Clark, Moore's attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota media law professor, said she was surprised to see the case advance this far. Most similar cases get settled or thrown out before trial, she said.

"This is one of these types of cases that media lawyers like me refer to as a trash tort case," Kirtley said. "And what we mean by that is where an individual is unhappy about something that somebody else published about them, and they don't have a viable libel suit, then they try to bring some other kind of legal claim."

She added, "It is really an attempt to sort of throw the jellyfish at the wall and see what might stick in the mind of a juror."

Kirtley said similar cases have been overturned on appeal. Appeals courts, she said, tend to see cases like these as efforts to infringe upon freedom of speech and freedom of the press.