State of Georgia poised to end online anonymity for World Internet

 

Case to decide whether chat room comments can be libelous
Crisp man made comments in chat room

Telegraph Staff Writer

A Crisp County farmer angry about the operations of a nearby landfill didn't libel Albany businessman Thomas Cannon in an Internet chat room because Cannon is a public figure, attorneys told the Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The case is one of the first in the nation to address whether comments made in Internet chat rooms can be considered libelous, attorneys for both sides said.

Bruce Mathis, who lives near the Crisp County dump, libeled Cannon by calling him a "crook" and a "thief" on an Internet stock page that lets investors make comments about publicly traded stocks, according to a decision issued last year by Crisp County Superior Court Judge Christopher Hughes.

Mathis was upset about problems arising from the Crisp County waste-processing facility, argued attorney James Hurt. Cannon was closely involved with the operation of the Crisp landfill and helped county commissioners make decisions related to its operation, Hurt said.

"[Mathis] didn't want our county turned into the dumping ground of the South," Hurt argued Tuesday in the Supreme Court chambers.

But Cannon can't be considered a public figure because his business had a contract with Crisp County, said his attorney, Bob Norman of Macon.

"This isn't a matter of public concern, it was a personal attack on Cannon," Norman said. "It's a tremendous stretch to say anyone who does work for a public entity is a public figure."

Cannon was not involved in the operations or finances of the Crisp County landfill, Norman said. Cannon's company, now owned by Waste Industries USA Inc., only hauls trash to the landfill.

Mathis believes his statements are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, and that Cannon is a limited public figure who should expect ridicule from the public. Georgia law dictates that public figures must prove malicious intent in a libel case.

Cannon was libeled and could ask a jury to award damages, according to Hughes' decision, which was affirmed by the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Mathis' comments were made using the screen name "duelly41" and were posted on an Internet chat-room page operated by the Yahoo! directory service. Yahoo! and other Internet companies maintain Web pages that allow individual investors to post public messages about stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

Cannon sold his company, TransWaste Services Inc., to Waste Industries of Raleigh, N.C., in September 1998 for about $25 million in cash and stock. Waste Industries hauls trash in nine states in the Southeast and operates four landfills in Georgia.

The Crisp County Recycling Center is managed by the Crisp County Solid Waste Management Authority, although the facility no longer recycles garbage. The plant's recycling operations had been losing about $750,000 a month.

Cannon's company has contracts with the city of Warner Robins and other governments to haul trash to the Crisp County site.

A decision on the case could be issued by the Georgia Supreme Court within one to six months, Hurt said. If the Georgia Supreme Court doesn't overturn the decision against Mathis, he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hurt said.


To contact Atlanta Bureau Chief Andy Peters, call (404) 659-8735 or e-mail apeters@macontel.com.

 

David McOwen comments on Cannon Vs Mathis Internet Case

 

Ok folks enough of me just doing a copy a paste of what others have already posted. Here is my take and stance on this new attack on the Internet and individuals originating from the State of Georgia again. To be fair the State is not the sole attacker in this case but certainly do not see any signs of the State attempting to mediate the threat before it goes too far either. This case is in the hands of the State of Georgia Supreme Court and may very well be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, it should never get out of the State and here is why I say so.

 

State Officials and Judges take note, Iím sure you already are.

 

I will talk about this from the prospective of my case, which I will not detail here but you can go to http://www.freemcowen.com to read about it if you do not already know about it.

 

During my case there was numerous defamatory and slanderous writings and remarks from a couple of particular anonymous screen names. The tone, the writing, the seemingly inside information suggested that the characters doing the writing were very likely the couple of individuals that I worked with for the State and started the whole attack to begin with.

 

I as well as my supporters decided to not take the road that the Transwaste Services guy has taken in that he went to Yahoo via the Courts to get the origination and actual name of the anonymous poster of the remarks about him. Why did we not do that you ask? We would like nothing better than to be awarded and get back the thousands and thousands of dollars my case cost. Here is why. No one should pay any mind to the garbage an anonymous coward posts on the Internet. The Internet is a public debate forum on a World Wide scale, get used to it. If it gets suppressed in any way we will all be under the same rule as those in China or any other Dictator led Country where the Internet is for all intents and purposes, turned off, not a very pretty picture is it?

 

So there you have it, I donít like to write long winded, I get to the point and thatís it. Lifeís too short for anything else.

 

David McOwen