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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Attorney Not Entitled To Identity of Anonymous Poster on Avvo

In a recent appellate court decision in Washington state, a court denied a lawyer's request that Avvo (an online attorney rating site) disclose the identity of an anonymous poster who wrote a negative review of the lawyer. Thompson v. Jane Doe (Ct. App. Wash. 2015)

The review stated as follows:
I am still in court five years after Ms. Thomson represented me during my divorce proceedings. Her lack of basic business skills and detachment from her fiduciary responsibilities has cost me everything. She failed to show up for a nine hour mediation because she had vacation days. She failed to subpoena documents that are critical to the division of assets in any divorce proceeding. In fact, she did not subpoena any documents at all. My interests were simply not protected in any meaningful way.
The attorney claimed that the post was designed to impugn her personal and professional reputation, and that she needed the poster's identity in order to proceed with a defamation action. refused to release the identity of the poster, so she filed a lawsuit to compel the release. 

The court reviewed a variety of cases where courts had considered similar requests to divulge the identity of anonymous posters. The court noted that there courts had applied differing standards in these cases. For example, in Virginia, a defamation plaintiff seeking an anonymous speaker's identity must establish a good faith basis to contend that the speaker committed defamation. Other courts applied the "motion to dismiss" standard - in other words, could the plaintiff's defamation claim survive a motion to dismiss.

The Washington court rejected both standards, however, in favor of a standard that requires the plaintiff to provide supporting evidence beyond the pleading standards before an anonymous speaker's identity is released. Applying this more stringent standard, the court held that Thompson was not entitled to disclosure of the poster's identity.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf

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