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Jury's $60,000 verdict stands against ex-Grand Forks council member Hoff for blog's role in U of M firing

MINNEAPOLIS A jury's $60,000 verdict against Minneapolis blogger John "Johnny Northside" Hoff - in 2000 a controversial Grand Forks City Council member ousted after a four-month term - for a posting that got a man fired will stand, a Hennepin Cou...

MINNEAPOLIS

A jury's $60,000 verdict against Minneapolis blogger John "Johnny Northside" Hoff - in 2000 a controversial Grand Forks City Council member ousted after a four-month term - for a posting that got a man fired will stand, a Hennepin County judge has ordered.

In a nine-page ruling, District Judge Denise Reilly wrote that ex-community leader Jerry Moore provided "direct and circumstantial evidence" to support the jury's verdict that a blog post by Hoff led to his termination by the University of Minnesota.

Hoff "acknowledged that it was his goal to get [Moore] fired and that he was working 'behind the scenes' to do so," Reilly wrote. "After the fact, [Hoff] took personal responsibility for [Moore's] termination and announced his ongoing, active involvement in the University's actions."

The case has drawn the attention of numerous free-speech advocates, including the Society of Professional Journalists, which filed a brief in support of Hoff.

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Hoff, who learned of the order on Monday, called it "a dark day for the First Amendment."

"I didn't think it would go this way," he said. "I'm shocked."

The jury ruled last March that Hoff's scathing blog post amounted to actively interfering with Moore's job at the U, even though Hoff's statements were true when he linked Moore to high-profile mortgage fraud.

The jury awarded Moore $35,000 for lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress. Hoff sought to overturn the verdict or get a new trial. Reilly denied both efforts.

Hoff's attorney, Paul Godfread, said an appeal was planned. Hoff, who is on leave from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard, is likely to be eligible for a postponement of payments pending the appeal.

Moore, former executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council, was hired in early 2009 at the U's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center to study mortgage foreclosures.

When Hoff found out about the hire, he wrote a post accusing Moore of being involved in a "high-profile fraudulent mortgage" that was one of several resulting in a 16-year prison sentence for former real estate agent Larry Maxwell. Moore was not charged in that case.

Hoff took partial credit for Moore's firing in a later blog post, to which Moore responded with his suit.

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Blogger Don Allen was originally named as a co-defendant in the case because he sent an e-mail to the U urging Moore's firing, then copied the e-mail to Hoff's blog. Allen settled with Moore and testified against Hoff.

Moore's attorney, Jill Clark, said they were pleased with the verdict, one that she said many critics didn't understand.

"There were an awful lot of people commenting on the trial that hadn't attended the trial," she said. "I'm a very staunch supporter of the First Amendment, but if the notion that you can't have your words used against you were true, no one would ever be held liable criminally or civilly, and Hoff's words showed his motivation.

"When he bragged in his blog, 'We got him fired,' that shows intent."

Grand Forks connection

Hoff made headlines in Grand Forks in 2000 as he ran for a seat on the City Coucnil, getting elected the same summer Dr. Mike Brown defeated Mayor Pat Owens.

Within weeks of that June 2000 election, a member of his ward mounted a recall effort and obtained enough signatures by August to have a special election called.

In November that year, Lowell Stevens, who had lost by a few votes to Hoff in June, defeated him in the special election.

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Hoff's short tenue was attributed in part to his abrasive, confrontational style, along with unusual activism, which included trying to organize UND students for impromptu news conferences on the street.

He attended UND's law school and moved to Minneapolis a few years ago. According to previously published stories in the Herald, Hoff grew up on a farm near Forada, Minn., near Alexandria, graduated from Concordia College in 1989 and served in the Army during the first Gulf War.

In the 1990s, he lived in Seattle, where he raised heck with local politicians on issues of homelessness and open records and other issues and made some headlines.

He told the Herald he moved to Grand Forks in early 2000, hoping to attend law school. He quickly mounted a campaign for city council.

In Minneapolis he has continued his eccentric form of community activism, attracting attention and making friends and enemies, now using the Internet as a main venue, as his attorney told the Star Tribune.

This article includes material from the Herald.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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