Jury says Hoff didn't lie, but has to pay anyway

Illustration by Jay Gabler, based on text from The Adventures of Johnny Northside

While the jury found that statements made by John Hoff in his blog about Jerry Moore's involvement with a fraudulent mortage transaction at 1564 Hillside Avenue were not false, they still awarded $60,000 in damages to Jerry Moore for interference with his employment at the University of Minnesota and potential future benefits and for emotional distress. The award was $35,000 for "loss of benefits" and $25,000 for emotional distress.

Jerry Moore sued blogger John Hoff for damages based on claims of defamation and interference with contract.

For the defamation claim, Moore needed to prove that the statement below, written in Hoff's blog, was false:

"Repeated and specific evidence in Hennepin County District Court shows Jerry Moore was involved with a high-profile fraudulent mortgage at 1564 Hillside Ave N." 

Because Judge Reilly ruled before the trial that Moore was a limited public figure, Moore needed to prove not only that the statement was false, but also that Hoff acted with malice in making the statement.  Because the jury found that the statements Hoff made were not false, they never arrived at the question of malice.

The second claim was that Hoff's calls for investigation and action, posted on his blog, constituted intentional interference with Moore's employment contract at the University of Minnesota. A third claim said that the blog posts damaged his prospects for future employment.

In his closing arguments, Paul Godfread, Hoff's lawyer said proving "malice" would mean that Hoff wrote the statement knowing it was false, or with a reckless disregard for the truth.  Godfread said that Hoff thought the statement was true when he made it, and that, in fact, the statement was true. It appears that the jury agreed.

To support the claim that the statement was true, Godfread had submitted into evidence three items, which were obtained by Melony Micheals, the victim in a fraud case against Larry Maxwell that included the property located at 1564 Hillside Ave N. in Minneapolis. The documents included copies of a HUD settlement statement for the fraudulent purchase, which named Jerry Moore as one of the people receiving a payment, a check for $5000 made out to Moore for "consulting services" on the house, and an invoice from J.L. Moore Consulting for "Windows" at 1564 Hillside.

As for the claim of interference with contract, Godfread said in his closing statement that the prosecution was relying on accusations without evidence.  Further, he stated that Hoff's justification for writing his blog post was that it was in the public's interest, as public funds went toward the program that Moore worked for. 

Moore's attorney Jill Clark said in her closing statement that much of the discussion of the First Amendment and freedom of the press as it relates to blogs "is really not relevant."  She also said, "There need to be some limits on blogs."  Clark pointed to Hoff's lack of objective reporting.  "The reporter loses objectivity when he enters the story," she said.

To support Moore's second two claims, Clark pointed to Hoff's blog post written on June 23, 2009 , which included the statement:

It was reportedly coverage on this blog which "blew open" the issue of Moore's hiring and forced the hand of U of M decision-makers after the issue had been quietly, respectfully brought to their attention over a week ago. I am told pages were printed from my previous blog post about Moore's hiring by UROC, including the extensive comment stream, and these pages got "waved around" a bit in a discussion at U of M.

 Clark argued that Hoff's wording "forced the hand" is Hoff bragging about getting Jerry Moore fired.  "That's not about speech," she said.  "That's about conduct." 

    Our primary commenting system uses Facebook logins. If you wish to comment without having a Facebook account, please create an account on this site and log in first. If you are already a registered user, just scroll up to the log in box in the right hand column and log in.

    Sheila Regan's picture
    Sheila Regan

    Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

    Comments

    Comment viewing options

    Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

    Harman v. Heartland Food

    Harman v. Heartland Food Company, 614 N.W.2d 236 (Minn. 2000): 

    "[A] plaintiff must show that the breach of plaintiff's contract with the third party resulted at least in part from the defendant's commission of an independent tort or other illegality. * * *

    Defamation was the only independent illegality alleged. But ["Plaintiff]'s defamation claim . . . fails as a matter of law. * * *  [Plaintiff's] wrongful interference claim fails."

    Retalition is NOT what blogs are for

    John Hoff uses his blog to "1st Amendment retaliate" as he calls it. He uses his blog as a tool to retaliate against those that have offended him. He uses his blog to harass and intimidate people. And a jury of his peers has made it clear that this misuse of our freedom of speech will not be tolerated.
    The door has been opened for anyone who has any type of contract, license, or agreement that has been interfered with by Hoff, to sue him. That includes the landlords who he encourages his reader to call in complaints against, those he refers to as "slumlords"; businessmen such as Don Allen, who Hoff has written defamatory comments about in regards to a contract he has with the Minneapolis Public Schools; Anyone who has lost a job due to Hoff's blogging; Ex-offenders who may have had to move due to Hoff's encouragement of his readers to harass them; And even a sex offender who was arrested in response to Hoff's frivolous complaints.
    The reality is there are a lot of people who despise John Hoff because he is a predator that thrives on the enjoyment and satisfaction he receives from the hurt, harm, and misery he causes his victims.
    It the end John Hoff will be taught a lesson. The only problem is that John Hoff NEVER learns.

    Really?

    The only people complaining are the ones who have done wrong. The man has the balls to show all of your true faces to the local community and you respond with the most cowardly response of boo hoo hoo he called me out on my bullshit, I think I'll work the system and sue him even though I'm wrong in the first place. Which by the way just further proves his statements are TRUE! If you are a bad person and someone tells someone your a bad person, your still a BAD person. Correct what you've done wrong instead of trying to do more harm to the situation, now almost everyone that's been following this story knows your name as if it's a common household name like Randy Moss. Good luck clearing yourself in the publics eye now!

    Well, I never

    I came to the thread expecting to see outrage that a fundamental aspect of American society - the Constitution - had been trampled into the dirt and spat upon.

    Instead, I see people glad that it was.

    Incredible.

    I am also dumbfounded

    I truly couldn't believe that the jury decided the way they did.  A person's first amendment right to free speech seemed pretty clear to me.  Even though I may not like or agree with a lot of what the defendant says, he still has the right to say it, doesn't he?  Isn't that always the uncomfortable test . . . the KKK members parading and speaking on the steps of a capitol, etc.?  If this doesn't get overturned, I can't imagine what it means for the country, the citizens, and our vast online world.

    Welcome

    Welcome to Barack Obama's America! Guaranteed employment for "community leaders" who contribute nothing to society and live off taxpayer money.

    Ridiculous judge, outrageous verdict

    If his doesn't get overturned on appeal, we have no meaningful freedom of speech.