Biting blog given last post using stalker law

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 16/06/2013
Jaqueline Sperling
FAIRFAX NZ
LEGAL PRECEDENT: Jaqueline Sperling.

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A lawyer has won a harassment case against a blogger who launched an online campaign to ruin her reputation, setting a major precedent extending the scope of anti-stalking laws.

Judge David Harvey issued blogger Jacqueline Sperling with an indefinite restraining order to protect lawyer Madeleine Flannagan, a rare case in which the Harassment Act has been used to cover blogging. The decision now opens the door to victims of harassment on other online sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Sperling - who created colourful headlines when she outed herself as an ex-methamphetamine addict, ex-prostitute and ex-girlfriend of Michael Laws - was ordered to take down nearly 100 posts and comments from her blog which made derogatory references to Flannagan.

Law professor Warren Brookbanks of Auckland University said: "The purpose of the Harassment Act is to provide remedies for the actions of a person who engages in a pattern of behaviour that is directed at another person that involves a ‘specified act'.

"Typically, the behaviour includes watching, loitering near a person's home or place of work. It may also include following, stopping or accosting a person or interfering with their property."

Brookbanks said bringing blog posts and online comments within the scope of the act was potentially precedent-setting and opened the door to cover Facebook, Twitter and other online networks.

Sperling made a range of allegations against Flannagan online, including claims that she was dishonest and addicted to painkillers, and also made disparaging remarks about her professional ability.

She lifted the lid on a seemingly racy side to the blogosphere - spreading her accusations to a friend of Flannagan, Debbie Brown, outing her for an affair with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

A year ago, Flannagan and Brown unsuccessfully applied for a restraining order against Sperling, saying she had made numerous hurtful and distressing internet posts about them.

Judge Harvey ordered some posts be taken offline but ruled a restraining order was not required.

Flannagan took legal action a second time after Sperling renewed her online attacks. This time the lawyer won the indefinite restraining order.

Flannagan hailed her win this month as a "precedent-setting case".

She said it was not the first cyber-bullying case tested by the Harassment Act but it was the first with a detailed judgment.

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"[Judge Harvey] conducted a full two-hour hearing and wrote a lengthy considered judgment, so he cemented it," she said. "It's really concreted into law now."

Sperling was ordered to remove all posts referring to Flannagan and banned from creaing any more.

Flannagan said the result meant more than just relief.

"You get a sense of freedom," she said.

"There reached a point with it where particular friends, if I saw they had texted me or phoned me, there'd be an apprehension . . . what's she done now?"

Judge Harvey also awarded Flannagan $9000 in costs, but she said she was yet to be paid.

Sperling was unavailable for comment.

The decision comes as new legislation is before Parliament aimed at protecting victims of online bullying, under which cyber-bullies could be jailed for up to three years.

The legislation follows calls by coroner Wallace Bain for action over cyber-bullying after two cases where young women killed themselves as a result of online activity.

- Sunday Star Times

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