Don’t Shoot the Messenger: Uptown Bloggers Subpoenaed

By Hunter Clauss in News on Jan 30, 2009 3:40PM

2009_01_30_uu.jpg The legal fight over Uptown’s Wilson Yard took an unexpected turn this week as two bloggers were subpoenaed by an attorney representing the lot’s developer. The Chicago Journal’s News-Star reported that an attorney for Peter Holsten sent subpoenas to search-engine giant Google, asking for ownership information for two anonymous blogs that have been outspoken critics of the Wilson Yard development. Those two blogs are Uptown Update, which tracks news related to the Uptown area, and What The Helen, which was up and running during the 2007 aldermanic election that pitted incumbent Ald. Helen Shiller against community activist James Cappleman.

The subpoenas for the two blogs are connected to a lawsuit filed by a community group called Fix Wilson Yard, which argues that City Hall misused millions of taxpayer dollars in subsidizing the development of Wilson Yard through tax-increment financing. The empty lot is currently set to receive a Target and some low-income housing units. Attorneys for Fix Wilson Yard say they plan on filing a motion that would throw out the subpoenas. It is unclear why the two bloggers were subpoenaed in the first place, but Fix Wilson Yards hinted that the move could have an ulterior motive. “It is just unfortunate that we have to spend money on frivolous actions by the defendants when our resources are so limited,” the group said in a statement to the News-Star.

There’s more than one way to winning a lawsuit. You still be a winner even if you loose in court. That’s because lawsuits take a lot of time and that means big bucks for attorneys. It’s not uncommon that someone will file a bogus lawsuit or motion just to deplete the bank account of the person they have a grievance with. This situation will no doubt ignite debates over the First Amendment, journalism and new media. Should bloggers be covered under shield laws that journalists currently enjoy? What role do blogs play in community journalism, and what does it mean for community news if such blogs can be subpoenaed? But, hey, that might be the point because the debate has shifted from questions like, why are taxpayer dollars going to the creation of a big-box retailer instead of public schools?