by Max Brantley
Three Bryant aldermen — Adrian Henley, Brenda Miller and Danny Steele — filed a lawsuit yesterday in Saline Circuit court over anonymous comments made on local websites. They contend unnamed defendants, principally using mysaline.com, have defamed them. They say the comments were knowingly false, a standard necessary for a public official to make a defamation claim.
They also accuse the unnamed defendants with "cyberbullying." Said the lawsuit:
Defendants have transmitted, sent, or posted communications by electronic means with the purpose to frighten, coerce, intimidate, threaten, abuse, harass or alarm Plaintiffs and they have done so in furtherance of severe, repeated, or hostile behavior toward Plaintiffs.
While these aldermen have been a source of much resistance to Mayor Jill Dabbs stormy management, which earns them some sympathy here, I think this is a bad idea for any number of reasons. One is the rooting around they apparently intend to do to uncover who makes comments on websites. (!?!) Another is the further publicity they'll give to the very comments they don't like. Another is the exposure they might give opponents to their own private activities in the course of lawsuit discovery. Another, and most important, is the baseline fact that they are elected officials serving in a political hotspot partially of their own making. If you can't stand the heat ...
Cheree Franco, in her story this week, depicts Bryant as a fairly typical suburban community. Those who really care about politics are wrapped up in this controversy. But a much larger number seem to be mostly concerned about getting their kids to school and doing their jobs. Legal fights to settle essentially political disputes (best decided in elections) are rarely popular.
I'm sympathetic, too, to the small media outlet that will bear the brunt of the legal expenses in opposing the fishing expedition for the aldermen's critics. It's a chilling thing. The lawsuit includes a request (link corrected) for an order that Shelli Russell, operator of MySaline.com, preserve all information that could lead the plaintiffs to the identities of The Shadow, Lawchic, lawchic, up beat in bryant, Up Beat in Bryant, Upbeat in Bryant, Lady Bella, Shadidog, Sybil, Sybill and Concerned Citizen.