Here's the most important thing you need to know about blogger and "investigative journalist" Crystal Cox: when she got angry at First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza, she didn't just register the domains marcrandazza.com and fuckmarcrandazza.com and marcrandazzasucks.com in order to attack him. She registered jenniferrandazza.com and nataliarandazza.com — the names of Randazza's wife and three-year-old daughter.
That's Crystal Cox in a nutshell — an appropriate receptacle.
You've probably heard of Crystal Cox before, even if you don't remember the name. Last December, the media and the blogosphere were full of stories about how a federal judge in Oregon had ruled that "bloggers are not journalists" and declined to extend to her various statutory defenses available to the press, leading to a $2.5 million defamation judgment against her. She was hailed as a champion of free speech and a victim of a backwards and technophobic judiciary.
The truth, as is often the case, was a little more complicated. Remember: the first thing you need to know is that blogger and "investigative journalist" Crystal Cox is the sort of person who registers domains in the name of the three-year-old daughters of her enemies.
The full story is very lengthy and detailed. I will revisit it, but I haven't finished downloading all the case documents from PACER, and I'm thinking of springing for the transcripts of Crystal Cox's deposition and trial. But read the Forbes and New York times pieces. You'll learn about how Crystal Cox started a swarm of blogs attacking an Oregon lawyer named Kevin D. Padrick, by all reliable sources a decent and trustworthy lawyer. Padrick had the bad fortune to be appointed as the trustee in a bankruptcy case Cox was obsessed with. As the Times puts it:
In a long-running series of hyperbolic posts, she wrote that Mr. Padrick and his company, the Obsidian Finance Group, had engaged in bribery, tax fraud, money laundering, payoffs and theft, among other things. Her one-woman barrage did not alter the resolution of the Summit affair, but it was effective in ruining Mr. Padrick.
In a phone interview, he told me his business as a financial adviser had dropped by half since Ms. Cox started in on him, and any search of his name or his company turned up page after page on Google detailing his supposed skullduggery, showing up under a variety of sites, including Bend Oregon News, Bankruptcy Corruption, and Northwest Tribune.
After Crystal Cox vomited forth a series of blogs accusing Padrick of being a criminal, dominating the search results for his name, she sent this email to his lawyer:
That sure sounds like "pay me to take down the terrible things I've said about you," doesn't it? It does to me. It sounds like extortion. When asked by the New York Times, Crystal Cox responded blandly that she was “not on trial for writing e-mails.”
Contrast that with her email to Marc Randazza, telling him that she had already registered www.marcrandazza.com, and needed money, and she had been accused of extortion before, but did he or anyone he knew need a reputation manager?
He didn't bite. Soon she was filling the web with sites ranting and raving about him — freakish, incoherent, meandering rants. I'm not linking to them. After some thought, and with reluctance, and with apologies to Marc and his lovely wife, I'm going to show you this pdf of one of her pages attacking Jennifer by twisting a typically-Marc charming story about their engagement and pregnancy into something vile. I show it to you because I think it is necessary to understand how sick and evil Crystal Cox is. If you want to see more, go see one of her sites for yourself. Observe the disturbing rants, the odd capitalization and layouts, the sidebar advertisements for quack nostrums, and the occasional video report in which Crystal Cox twitches and babbles and meanders wherever her sick mind takes her. Don't link her, though. That helps her.
Crystal Cox now has formidable attorneys on her side — Eugene Volokh and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who just lost a motion for a new trial and are now appealing the judgment against Cox to the Ninth Circuit. Though Crystal Cox is a vile, evil person, I have nothing but respect for Volokh (a Popehat favorite) and the EFF. Read their briefs. They assert that the trial judge in Cox's case erred in instructing the jury and failed to extend to Cox the free speech protections we all should enjoy — that Padrick was not held to the right standard of proof in proving her intent in writing false things about him. They aren't arguing — at least as far as I can tell — that she proved that what she wrote was true; rather, they are arguing that the jury lacked to right rules to judge the case. Even if every damn thing Cox said was maliciously manufactured, this is important work: ultimately Volokh and the EFF are fighting for the rights of bloggers everywhere. But it's too bad that Crystal Cox is the standard-bearer for the case. Volokh and the EFF labor under a terrible record replete with Cox's bizarre rants. Consider her bizarre cross-complaint suing the victim for suing her, or her demand that the judge and court staff sign a declaration of lack of conflict of interest (this is typical of unhinged pro se litigants; it must be on a web site someplace), or her attempt to spin her extortionate email as really being about misconduct against her, or her post-trial motion launching a broadside against a hapless juror based on a largely incomprehensible conspiracy theory. And consider — as I keep saying — that Crystal Cox is the sort of person who registers a domain in the name of the three-year-old daughter of an enemy. But fighting for free speech often involves rubbing shoulders with evil — the Phelps clan, the Nazis at Skokie, and so forth.
I agree with Marc that Crystal Cox is no journalist. Journalists don't offer their services as reputation managers to the people they are reporting on. Journalists don't engage in bizarre and incomprehensible rants. (Well, OK, not counting cable news.) Journalists don't engage in the writing equivalent of spam. But I'm not convinced that this should matter. I think that Crystal Cox — like me, or Marc Randazza — should enjoy the same protections as a journalist. But with that comes responsibility. If she destroys someone's life — as she did to Padrick — and he can prove that her claims were false and that she had the requisite mental state, then she should pay. If the Ninth Circuit reverses here, despite Crystal Cox's warts, she should get another trial — and then I hope that Padrick thoroughly cockroach-stomps her again. Given the freakish nature of her filings, that seems like a probable result, no matter what standard she is held to.
But that's years in the future. Right now, we are dealing with someone who is registering domains in the names of the three-year-old daughters of her enemies. What can we do about people like Crystal Cox?
We can respond to her evil, vengeful speech with more speech.
First, every time Crystal Cox attacks someone, we can band together — as bloggers did for Marc Randazza
when Crystal Cox attacked him — and write fair and factual posts about the target. That substantially blunted Crystal Cox's attempt to destroy Randazza's reputation by spamming numerous nutty blogs about him, pushing her efforts off the first page. As a team, we can render Crystal Cox powerless and largely irrelevant. More speech works. (Now you know why I put up that mysterious Popehat Signal.) It might be nice to start by offering this gesture to Kevin D. Patrick, her victim in the Oregon case. But if you're out there — if she's gone after you, or threatened to — we can help you, too. We'll throw up the Popehat Signal and gather a more-speech team and flush her off the first pages of your search results.
Second, We can write about Crystal Cox based on established facts, documentary evidence, and her own words. We can all point out that she's the sort of person who retaliates against an opponent by registering a domain in the name of his three-year-old girl. If enough people do it, then Crystal Cox's power to destroy people's reputations will be further diminished. Even if people run across her vengeful posts about a victim, even the quickest inquiry into her will reveal her for who — for what — she is. More speech works.
Third, we can search for other victims. The emails to Padrick's lawyer and to Randazza are two data points — but showing a remarkably similar approach. Has she done this other times? There's a way to find out — we use reverse whois directories, plug in her name and addresses and email addresses and known associates, and find every domain she has ever registered. I've already started. Then we see whether the domains were used to attack someone. If they were, we start contacting the targets and asking questions — like "has Crystal Cox offered you reputation management services?"
Why would we want to see if Crystal Cox has sent emails to others like the ones she sent to Randazza and Padric? Well, two reasons, really. The first is civil. If Volokh succeeds in getting Crystal Cox a new trial on appeal — or if anyone else sues her — a pattern of such communications will be very probative of her intent in making false statements about people when she sets up multiple blogs about them. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), such "other bad acts" evidence is generally inadmissible — unless it is probative of intent, or knowledge, or motive, or lack of accident, or similar factors. What could be more probative of Crystal Cox's malicious intent than a pattern of such communications — like the pattern we already see in the two described above?
And the second reason to investigate further "reputation manager" offers?
Oh, yeah. That.
It's because of Title 18, United States Code, Section 875(d):
(d) Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
I suppose, if you want to get technical, that's not "more speech." But, like the best last line of a movie ever goes, "well, nobody's perfect."
Other posts about this:
Crystal Cox – Investigative Blogger? No, More Like A Scammer and Extortionist
A Blogger Not Like Us
Judge rules, again, that blogger Crystal Cox is not a journalist. You know why? Because she ISN’T a journalist.
How Crystal Cox Is Helping To Prove The Strength of the First Amendment
Investigative Journalist Crystal Cox Attacks Kevin D. Padrick
Crystal Cox Is Not a Member of the Media
Postscript: If you want to be part of this, there are rules. No threats to her of any sort whatsoever. No calls or emails or letters. Report the facts. Protect the innocent. She's evil; we're the good guys. Act like it.