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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Paper May Get to Shield Anonymous Commenter

(CN) - The Indianapolis Star does not yet have to identify a reader whose comment on a news article implied that an executive had embezzled from his organization, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Jeffrey Miller was the president of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana from 1994 to 2008. He then chaired the Enterprise Learning and Entrepreneurship Foundation, which teamed with Junior Achievement and Ivy Tech Community College in an effort to build a $4 million culinary school on the Junior Achievement campus.

Half of that money was to come from a grant by The Glick Fund, which was run by the Eugene Glick family and the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

But the project came to a halt when the Glick Fund stopped paying Enterprise's invoices despite having enough money to cover them.

Miller said the funding stopped because Junior Achievement president Jennifer Burk and CIC Foundation president Bryan Payne had implicated his name with misappropriation of funds.

In his lawsuit against Burk, Payne and their organizations, Miller claimed that Burke told current and former Junior Achievement officials that Miller had been "very dishonest" and that his "House of Cards is about to fall down."

Miller also accused Payne of telling Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's chief of staff that Miller had misappropriated funds. The rumors allegedly cost Miller a job as the city's senior policy adviser.

In 2010, the Indianapolis Star investigated Junior Achievement's finances, stating that the organization faced "questions about missed payments to contractors on a building project" and $764,000 in "unaccounted-for grant money."

An online reader commented on the article using the user name "DownWithTheColts," saying: "This is not JA's responsibility. They need to look at the FORMER president of JA and others on the [Enterprise foundation] board. The 'missing' money can be found in their bank accounts."

In his defamation suit, Miller sought nonparty discovery from the Indianapolis Star, saying the paper should identify who registered DownWithTheColts. The trial court ordered the Star to unmask the commenter, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed last week.

On remand, the Marion Superior Court must determine whether Miller has produced evidence to support the parts of his claim that are not dependent on the commenter's identity, according to the decision authored by Judge Nancy Vaidik.

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