Bulletin board suit dismissed

The seething debate over the WGAW computer bulletin board was finally put to rest Friday when a federal district court judge dismissed a lawsuit that would have reopened the public computer information vehicle on constitutional grounds.

Judge William D. Keller, in an order dated Nov. 29, dismissed all 10 allegations of the suit filed by Writers Guild of America West members Fred Haines and Ferde Rombola. The guild received the ruling Friday.

The bulletin board system (BBS) was created after the 1988 WGAW strike as an info conduit for writers. But WGAW officials became worried over frequent personal and potentially libelous messages.

“It was off-the-wall stuff, like mentioning their cocaine dealers and things like that,” said one source.

The guild then created a “users’ agreement” that laid down rules for usage to shield the WGAW from potential lawsuits.

Haines and Rombola sued the WGAW last spring, charging that the Guild and its board of directors violated their First Amendment rights by forcing them to sign the agreement. Soon after the suit was filed, the WGAW board rescinded the users’ agreement, but also shut down all public forums on the BBS.

“We are very pleased with the judge’s decision,” said WGAW spokeswoman Cheryl Rhoden. “We were confident that we stood on clear legal grounds.”

Haines, who said he hadn’t conferred yet with Rombola, called the judge’s ruling a mistake. “I think it’s an error of judgment,” he said. “I don’t know where we’re going to go or what we’re going to do, but you can say we’re thinking about an appeal.”

The BBS operates now listing library information and calendar announcements.

“It’s still a clear-cut case of the Guild silencing the criticism of its members,” Haines said after the ruling. “It has nothing to do with expense or anything else. They didn’t save 10 cents by shutting off the public discussion. What they did was save themselves from constant irritation and embarrassment.”

Keller said in his ruling that all legal challenges to the users’ agreement were moot because it had been rescinded. He also dismissed all claims of damages , including punitive, based on the plaintiffs’ allegation that the board of directors acted in bad faith.

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