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Unmasked Baptist Blogger’s Lawsuit (Mostly) Moves Ahead

Judge: Claims against Fla. state attorney dismissed, but assistant state attorney isn't immune.

Mac Brunson and the leaders of First Baptist Church Jacksonville didn't much care for FBC Jax Watchdog, one of many Baptist watchblogs.

No surprise there: Brunson was a frequent target of the anonymous blogger's critiques. The surprise is that the church asked one of its members, a police officer (who is also a Brunson bodyguard) to find out who the blogger was. The officer got assistant state attorney Stephen Siegel to subpoena records from Comcast and Google to unmask the blogger as longtime church member Tom Rich—whereupon the church leadership immediately barred Rich and his wife from ever coming near the sanctuary again.

The inevitable lawsuits followed, and on March 31 United States District Judge Marcia Morales Howard denied Siegel's efforts to claim immunity. "The limited record before the court does not support a finding that Siegel had any legitimate law enforcement interest in issuing the investigatory subpoenas," Howard said. In addition, she said, Siegel's reported actions "appear to violate the very essence of the First Amendment."

But Howard did dismiss Rich's complaint against Siegel's supervisor, then-state attorney Angela Corey, who was acting in her official capacity and is thus protected by 11th Amendment to the Constitution.

Rich is also suing the police officer and the church.

(Sources: Associated Baptist Press, Jacksonville Times-Union, and Religion Clause.)

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Posted:April 13, 2010 at 7:00PM
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Unmasked Baptist Blogger’s Lawsuit (Mostly) Moves Ahead