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Locked in a visitation dispute with his former girlfriend over their young daughter, J. Weichel wanted to vent, court records say. The woman said the postings were defamatory.

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But unlike the majority of libel cases, which are tried in civil court, local authorities have taken the unusual step of charging Weichel with a crime. Colorado is one of a dwindling of states with a criminal law against libel.

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The statute dates to the 19th century and is rarely used. But Larimer County Dist. Weichel could not be reached for comment, and his lawyer, Michael Liggett, has a policy of not speaking with reporters, an assistant in his law office said.

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But several lawyers said the case should be handled in civil court. Bringing the government into the dispute, they said, is a troubling infringement on free speech.

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Gregory Lisby, a communications professor at Georgia State University, has tracked criminal libel prosecutions. He said the states that retained such statues -- there are 17, according to free-speech groups -- had simply not updated laws from English common law.

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His research shows that criminal libel cases have dropped, but the Internet could reverse that, he said. In civil libel cases, truth is the best defense and the dead cannot be libeled.

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The state Supreme Court upheld the law in but said its provisions would not apply to constitutionally protected political speech. Inthe ACLU successfully blocked the Greeley Police Department from using the statute to pursue a blogger who posted material critical of a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. The postings were laced with crude references to her body.

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The woman told police that people who knew her read them and tried to defend her in online comments. Police traced the postings to a computer that Weichel had access to. In August, Loveland police questioned Weichel at his workplace.

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As news of the prosecution circulated, it prompted critics of the law to call for a revision. David Lane, a 1st Amendment lawyer in Denver, said prosecutors almost never used the law because they knew it could easily be stricken by a federal court.

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Facebook Twitter Show more sharing options Share Close extra sharing options. Criminal charge filed in libel case By Nicholas Riccardi. Riccardi is a Times staff writer.

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