The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

A Blogger, his Demons, the Law Part 1

with 4 comments

This is the first chapter of a three-part story about the Minneapolis blogger who lost a $60,000 damage suit for making a true statement. My shorter version of the story appeared on the Technorati web site: Bloggers feel a cold wind.

To call John Hoff a gadfly shortchanges Hoff, and at the same time shortchanges all gadflies.

Hoff is the blogger in Minneapolis who writes under the name of Johnny Northside, and he is the target of the lawsuit that stunned bloggers and lawyers throughout the country last week when a jury entered a judgment that he had to pay a former community board official $60,000 in damages for a single statement that he wrote, a statement that the jury found to be factual.

The story about the verdict caught the attention of several big national web sites, like Boing Boing “$60k damages awarded against blogger who reported truth” and Slashdot “Blogger Fined $60K For Telling the Truth”. Many other established web sites and individual bloggers chimed in.

The news sent a chill through bloggers everywhere — not only people who hurl anonymous insults in comments, but also people who are easily identifiable, stationary targets, people who might even have assets. If the verdict holds up, it could raise serious First Amendment questions for any organization that publishes on the web, and indeed by printing press.

I wanted to know if we bloggers, writers, reporters had anything to worry about in this case. It’s hard to tell this from the news stories like the one in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Jury: Blogger Johnny Northside must pay $60,000 to fired community leader.

As I started to read through the offending blog, I had trouble understanding the events. Without being familiar with the characters and the context, the blog makes little sense. It is clearly bombastic and sometimes obnoxious. On the one hand, the blog is a good example of hyperlocal news written with personality. On the other hand, it is totally lacking in the courtesy and discipline of the regular news. But the point remains, he was truthful. Hoff’s blog is similar to several others that concern themselves with North Side politics and issues.

On a typical day, Hoff had a following of 300 to 500 visitors a day before the verdict. It spiked to 3,500, but then settled down to about 1,000.

In his blog, as often as he can, Hoff repeats the quote that the jury found to be true yet damage-worthy. This is it:

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.

Jerry Moore is the former community board leader who sued Hoff.
Hoff’s refrain about a fraudulent mortgage is carefully worded. The operative word is involved. It doesn’t tell you very much. After a lot of reading, I can boil it down, but it’s still complicated. The crime was identity theft, which enabled the thief, one Larry Maxwell, to swindle something like $2 million from banks, and in the process he ruined the credit rating of the victims, namely Melony Michaels and John Foster, costing them aggravation and money.

Moore was a player in the politics and the nonprofits in the neighborhood, and his involvement in the fraud was being paid $5,000 at the closing for the sale of the Hillside Avenue house for some nebulous consulting work — all this from records in a case pursued by the victims of the identity theft. There’s a good summary of Moore’s background in two articles in a Minneapolis paper called City Pages “Jerry Moore has a controversial past” and “Jerry Moore: Check out the paper trail” covering this case and some of his past battles around North Minneapolis. It’s not complimentary. It is essentially a less heated account of the story Hoff is telling.

Maxwell, the thief, went to prison; Moore was not charged with a crime. He was a defendant in the victims’ suit, but was dropped “without prejudice”. He went on to get a job with a group at University of Minnesota that was doing a study on mortgage fraud. Because of that $5,000 check, Moore would seem to be an odd choice to study mortgage fraud, at least the university seemed to think so, and it ended Moore’s employment.

Hoff and his lawyer, Paul Godfread, said there was no testimony that UROC (the Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center), the group at the university that hired Moore, got rid of Moore because of Hoff’s blog, although Hoff claims the credit in his blog. I would think the jury would have wanted to hear the UROC account in court to know if Hoff even made a difference.

Moore’s lawyer, Jill Clark, said most of the local reports from the trial missed a crucial point about the testimony of another local figure, Don Allen, who was initially named as a defendant but settled with Moore and then testified for Moore. Allen said he got in touch with UROC at Hoff’s urging to alert the director there about Moore’s connection to the fraud case.

She said the key issue was the fact that Hoff pushed Allen, a businessman, to contact UROC and tell them about Moore. This was the basis of the claim (technically not defamation but “interference”) on which the jury based its award. The three issues in the trial were defamation, which the jury rejected because Hoff’s statements were true, and two interference claims, which the jury accepted. Clark said she thought the jury was swayed by Allen’s testimony and because of Hoff’s bragging that he was the reason Moore was fired. She calls this testimony the “connective tissue” that establishes Hoff’s campaign against Moore as the cause of Moore’s firing.

Hoff’s manner, Clark said, also turned off the jury on a personal level. Clark, who’s an experienced trial lawyer in Minneapolis, also said that the defense failed to address many of her issues, pointing out that Godfread came into the case very late in the game. In contrast to Hoff, Moore was an appealing witness, and by all accounts people agree that he is charming when they first met him.

The tactical issues aside, it’s still unclear, to me, why UROC got rid of Moore. Clark said she didn’t call the executive director, Irma McClaurin, to testify on this point because the woman had taken a job in South Carolina and it wasn’t worth the expense to bring her back to Minnesota.

Oddly if Moore hadn’t won this case, hardly anyone outside the Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods of Minneapolis would have ever heard of him. Now, his name must be familiar throughout Minnesota and beyond. Even if he eventually collects $60,000, I wonder if it’s been worth it.

Next: Hoff’s Demons


Written by theunbiasedeye

March 29, 2011 at 11:08 am

Posted in Media, Trends

4 Responses

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  1. The word “individual” is spelled wrong, last sentence, third paragraph.

    As of this moment, Moore no longer a defendant in victims' suit. He was a defendant, as well as his “consulting” firm, but he was dropped on a technicality over “failure to plead with particularity.” In other words, not saying the magic words over each and every defendant but making allegations and then saying, “all these folks were involved in such and such.”

    One of the co-defendants, Halisi Edwards-Staten, tried to keep Moore in the suit. He was dropped “without prejudice” and therefore could come back into the lawsuit.

    Who was his lawyer? Jill Clark! The same lawyer who sued me for saying Moore was “involved” was defending him in the civil suit, a matter we couldn't get into the damn defamation trial!

    There's a long, detailed affidavit filed by the victim, Melony Michaels, about Moore's suspected “involvement.” Wanted that in as evidence. Couldn't get that in as evidence. Still got PLENTY in as evidence. Enough for the jury to say “it's the truth.”

    It was Irma McClaurin (check spelling) not Makeda Zulu-Gillespie who left the state. Zulu-Gillespie DID testify. She testified she had no idea why Moore was fired, doesn't know why ANYBODY gets fired, and had never heard of anybody being fired because of a blog post.

    Now, for the part that REALLY matters…

    The authorities need to get to the bottom of 1564 Hillside Ave. N. and what happened there. All the “little fish” who were involved need to be exposed. My blog is working on exposing them. I just a moment ago finished a blog post about Keith Reitman, the slumlord seller of the property. Here is a link.

    We will not rest, will not rest, will not rest until everything about 1564 Hillside Ave. N. hits the light of day. And then there is all the OTHER mortgage fraud in my neighborhood. That needs to hit the light of day as well.

    Those who want to help with this mission may take note of the PayPal button on my blog. But if you just find it interesting to read about, hey, that's cool.

    Nobody is going to get rich blogging but you shouldn't go broke for telling the truth.

    Johnny Northside!

    March 30, 2011 at 2:38 am

  2. Thanks for pointing out the three errors. They've been corrected.

    Barry Schiffman

    March 30, 2011 at 12:02 pm

  3. Here's links to more info about Don Allen.

    Involved in a Ponzi scheme that was raided by Secret Service:

    After the raid, his former boss accused Don Allen of extortion and got a restraining order:

    Go here to look over the actual restraining order:

    He stole money from a bedridden veteran while working at a Veterans Administration hospital.

    He was involved in a bizarre attempt to get a large amount of money from the Minneapolis Public School System.

    Ultimately, Don Allen did manage to shake $15,000 from the Minneapolis Public School system, a matter first exposed on my blog but picked up by other media and bloggers, some of which are linked from this article, below. The same article has MORE criminal information about Don Allen.

    We didn't know all this stuff about Don Allen when I first met him and the idea was, hey, let's share a lawyer to cut expenses and deal with this ridiculous defamation lawsuit. Don Allen was, however, a Benedict Arnold and a Judas.

    These links above don't even scratch the surface of all the Don Allen dirt that's out there. There's more. But I'm off to dig up more mortgage fraud info.

    Johnny Northside!

    March 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm

  4. Don Allen was originally a co-defendant in the defamation/interference case. Why was he a co-defendant? Because he was even MORE of a scathing, obnoxious critic of Jerry Moore than Hoff was. He has (had) numerous postings on his blog, on facebook, comments on Hoff's blog and any other form of internet expression lambasting Jerry Moore, calling for his termination from JACC (the community board that he was in charge of). Of course they are almost all gone after Allen scrubbed them off his site.

    It was Don Allen who originally called Hoff and said Moore was working there and we should all be outraged and we should all call UROC. It was Don Allen who took it upon himself to write an email communication to Irma McClaurin informing her of the PR disaster that loomed and that the U should take immediate steps to avoid the bad press, etc. Don Allen did that on his own and when he testified that he did so because of Hoff's urging he outright lied and perjured himself on the stand. Don Allen is a con man. A shake down artist. A convicted thief who steals from bedridden vets at the VA hospital. He runs internet marketing firms that get raided by the secret service for suspected ponzi schemes. But no one knew this until much later. And when that sort of background info came to surface about Don Allen and his character, he flipped like a light switch and weasled his way out of the law suit.

    But that's okay, Don Allen's testimony helped to contribute towards a verdict Jerry Moore will never be able to shake.

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

    I'm willing to guess it is not the only fraudulent deal that Jerry Moore got a small piece of the pie.

    NoMi Passenger

    March 30, 2011 at 3:07 pm

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