Terms include, Watchdog explains:
- A $50,000 payment to Rich.
- A meeting with Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford to discuss ethics issues to help develop “conflict of interest code for its detectives.”
- Development and implementation of “a training program for JSO detectives specifically on constitutional First Amendment issues and legal ramifications that must be considered when issuing investigative subpoenas.”
Rich’s attorney, Michael Roberts, said the separate defamation suit against the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville will continue.
The suit was filed after FBC Jax Watchdog’s anonymity was silently demolished in 2008 by a still unsatisfactorily explained and, from the point of view of the blogger at the time, secret criminal investigation. The settlement did not involve an admission of fault.
Anonymous blogs permit the relatively powerless to speak what they believe is truth, to power. Power rarely responds graciously. In this case, the unmasking and FBC Jax Watchdog had a serious impact on his life. As his attorney explained:
“Mr. Rich was essentially excommunicated from his church,” his attorney, Michael Roberts, said. “He was a member for 20 years. Sure he was critical of the new leadership at the church, but a lot of members were critical of things they didn’t like.”
The bylaws governing resolution of grievances within that church were and apparently still are heavily loaded against dissent. This case illustrates that an oppressive approach tends to drive debate underground — often into anonymous blogs — and unmasking the blogger does not eliminate that dissent or refute the criticisms. A heavy-handed response in fact underlines the social value of dissent and of the dissenter’s efforts.