Ga. man awarded $404,000 for libelous Internet postings | ajc.com

Posted: January 29, 2011 by scaryhouse in Uncategorized

 

By Rhonda Cook – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In just a few days, Gene Cooley lost his fiancee, his job, his future in-laws and his home. It started with the murder of Cooley’s fiancee by the woman’s ex-husband. While still reeling from that loss, he became a target of Internet postings from someone he barely knew. The anonymous poster went on a community website for Blairsville, where Cooley lived at the time,  and accused him of being a pedophile with a criminal record and a drug addict. None of it was true.

A Union County jury last week said the damage those postings did to Cooley was worth $404,000, the largest award ever handed down in this North Georgia county. The poster was identified through her computer’s numeric IP address.

“She absolutely ax-murdered this boy’s life,” said Russell Stookey, Cooley’s lawyer.

Cooley barely knew his web attacker, a woman who worked at a Blairsville store where he sometimes shopped. Had it not been for the willingness by the website, Topix.com, to out Sybil Denise Ballew, her identity may never have been known.

Stookey took an infrequently used route to find Ballew’s identity. He used a subpoena to get the IP address, which is something unique to every computer, behind the libelous postings on Topix.com. The website, which acts as a news aggregator for local communities, readily complied.

“She [the poster] might have said these things in the past, but you write it down and it can be traced back to your computer,” said Topix.com CEO Chris Tolles. “People are going to find it’s hard to have complete anonymity.”

Cooley’s saga began with the murder of his fiancee, Paulette Harper, at the hands of her ex-husband in September of 2008. A few days later, the postings on the Blairsville page of Topix.com started showing up.

The poster wrote Cooley was a “pervert” and drug addict with a lengthy criminal record, a man who had been in prison and rehab. Harper’s daughter, who was 9 at the time, must be protected from Cooley, the poster wrote.

“I didn’t really even know the woman. I knew her in passing,” Cooley, 44, told the AJC. “She worked at two places [where] I was a customer.”

Cooley had a criminal background check run on himself showing that he had no such past, but people didn’t seem to care. Eventually he had to leave Blairsville, where his mother, sister and two sons lived, to find another job. He now lives in Augusta and works as a hairdresser.

Ballew is the woman who wrote the posts under the pseudonyms Mouth, Calvin, Bugs, Yuck, Rebel and Slim. She admitted in court that she also had conversations with herself, posting her concerns on the site under one name and then agreeing with the posts under another persona.

via Ga. man awarded $404,000 for libelous Internet postings  | ajc.com.

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