‘ET’ Reporter Can Keep Hard Drives, Court Says

     (CN) – “Entertainment Tonight” correspondent Art Harris, a defendant in the Anna Nicole Smith defamation case filed by the late Playboy bunny’s mother, need not hand over computer hardware as evidence, a Texas appeals court ruled.

     Smith’s mom, Virgie Arthur, accused her late daughter’s attorney of libel after Smith claimed during an “Entertainment Tonight” interview that Arthur physically attacked her and did nothing to defend her against family members who had sexually abused her.
     Arthur sued Howard K. Stern, also Smith’s partner, claiming that he had conspired with various media outlets to defame her and had damaged her chances of winning custody of her granddaughter, Smith’s daughter, Dannielynn.
     Harris was accused of writing libelous blog posts and articles and of interviewing one of Smith’s relatives. The interview was aired on a segment of “Entertainment Tonight.”
     During discovery, Arthur requested that Harris “produce copies of all communications” from September 2006, including 38 email addresses. Harris was forced to hand over electronic equipment, including computers and hard drives. He also supplied more than 3 million pages of emails.
     Harris argued that the forensic examiner charged with inspecting the electronics improperly revealed private attorney-client information from the emails. He also claimed the examiner made “sarcastic, editorial, and prejudicial comments” about his writing.
     The Texas Court of Appeals for the 1st District granted Harris’ petition to withdraw the discovery orders against him, ruling that Arthur’s request was “overboard, prohibitively expensive and unduly burdensome.”
     “We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion not only by compelling production of overly broad discovery without addressing Harris’s objections and without a motion to compel discovery from Harris before it, but also by issuing its even more invasive order that Harris produce his hard drives and by failing to require Arthur to make any showing that the benefit of the discovery she sought outweighed the burden and expense to Harris,” Justice Evelyn Keyes wrote for the three-judge panel.
     The court dismissed the remaining issues as moot.

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