Court Lifts Lawless Gag Order On Dan Valenti of Planet Valenti

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how a Central Berkshire Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega had issued a patently unconstitutional gag order forbidding Dan Valenti of Planet Valenti from blogging about Meredith Nilan, the daughter of a high official in the very court in which Judge Sanabria-Vega sits. Judge Sanabria-Vega also ordered Mr. Valenti to take down all of his posts about Ms. Nilan.

Today, after a six-hour hearing, Judge Mark Mason of the same court lifted the order. From the limited coverage, it sounds as if Nilan continued to suggest that she is entitled to prior restraint of defamation, or even of speech critical of her:

Nilan called Valenti's blogs about her "constant," "full of lies," and sensationalistic.

Whether or not that's true, it does not justify a gag order on Valenti or an order requiring him to take down what he has written before. Hans Bader at wrote an excellent legal analysis of the problems with the gag order; it's well worth reading.

Judge Mason did let fly with a somewhat gratuitous warning:

On Monday, Mason said Valenti's posts didn't rise to the level of "fighting words" or "true threats" against Nilan, but warned the blogger, "You're walking a very, very fine line."

Now, I wasn't in the courtroom. But I've read Valenti's posts from Google Cache, and I haven't seen anything anywhere close to any principled constitutional line I'm familiar with — unless, perhaps, it's the line of "speech that may lead a court to ignore constitutional rights and rule from cronyism or visceral annoyance." On the other hand, as I have said before, it's usually a mistake to read too much into judicial bloviation.

Dan Valenti has posted his initial (understandably exhausted) account tonight. I look forward to more details. Congratulations to him, and thanks and admiration to his attorneys Rinaldo Del Gallo and the ACLU’s Bill Newman.

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  1. Chris R. says

    Damn it, I've been practicing an end zone dance for like 2 weeks and I don't get to use it?

  2. apauld says

    So, can or will anything happen to Judge Sanabria-Vega at this point, or does her judicial indiscretion just get swept under the proverbial rug?

  3. Dan Weber says

    This isn't as sexy as Carreon-v-Internet but it's probably more important.

    Good to hear.

  4. doug says

    its possible the judge had other court matters to attend to, or even another brief hearing. And then there is lunch.

  5. Malc says

    One issue that bothers me a little: the order lifting the gag also requires law enforcement to destroy any record of the (lifted) order. Why? Apart from protecting the reputation of "the court" (i.e. that of Judge Sanabria-Vega who unlawfully violated the First Amendment rights of a citizen), the whole point of Mr. Valenti's reporting was that "the court" was acting in a way that provided preferential treatment for a family member of a court employee, in a way that would appear to be in clear violation of the spirit of (if not the legal precedent of) the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (i.e. Ms. Nilan is afforded privileges that would not be granted to non-court-family members such as Mr. Peter Moore — a member of the class "victim of vehicular crime"!

    I guess the bothersome point is that there is a real and substantiated appearance that the Berkshire County District Court is corrupt, and while that may or may not be true in objective fact, it is an old axiom that courts should strive to maintain not only the actuality but also the appearance of impartiality.

  6. says

    Malc, that's generally for the benefit of the person against whom the order was issued, to try to take it off their record that they had a harassment order issued against them.