Popehat Signal: Blogger and Commenters Need Help In Jefferson County, Ohio

The Popehat Signal

Today I'm putting up the Popehat Signal seeking pro bono assistance for a threatened blogger and anonymous blog commenters.

For the moment, I'm only going to describe the case generally, though I may discuss it later at length. The blog in question reports on local crime stories in Ohio, and in this instance reported on a local prosecution of the rape of an unconscious young woman, allegedly by high school football players. One player was not accused of the rape, but was criticized on the blog based on an allegation that he took pictures of the unconscious young woman but did nothing to stop others from sexually assaulting her. He, and his parents, have now sued the blogger and have named multiple commenters as John Doe defendants and will seek to unmask them.

I've reviewed the complaint, and it appears to me that (1) many of the statements it complains of are archetypical statements of opinion protected under the First Amendment, and (2) that the relief it demands — including prior restraint on publication, removal of existing posts, and a court-mandated retraction and apology — are extremely questionable. Moreover, to the extent the suit attempts to assign liability to the blogger for the words of commenters, it runs afoul of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The suit has been filed in Jefferson County, Ohio. The blogger needs counsel, and the John Doe defendants may as well — whether individually or as a group to fight attempts to unmask them. This may be a case like the Planet Valenti matter where local power politics play a role.

If you can possibly help, or if you know anyone who can, please drop a line to ken at popehat etc. I will pass information along to the people involved.

Remember: because of the flaws in our legal system, defense of the First Amendment relies upon the vigorous participation of lawyers (and others) willing to lend a hand.

[Confidential to C.B. and C.T.: snookumses, I'm sure you'll be mewling about "why does he attack us but help these people!" One answer, as anyone with a room-temperature IQ will tell you, is that these people aren't engaged in wire fraud and extortion. Thx.]

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. David says

    Going after the commenters? God, people make me sick.

    The only times I regret not continuing down the prelaw path after freshman year are when the Popehat Signal goes up. Hope whoever does sign up kicks some ass.

    (And if it's the case I'm thinking of, local politics do seem like a likely factor. All the more reason for them to have all the help they can get.)

  2. jb says

    While I lack the legal background to help with the case, I do admire what you're doing, and I want to offer my help. Also, I owe you guys for introducing me to Marian Call. Perhaps a separate blog just for reposting calls for pro-bono support first-amendment issues? Or a webapp where interested lawyers can register, and receive email alerts for pro-bono requests in their state? (I write webapps for a living). Or something else?

    Happy to pay all the associated expenses, not looking to make money, just want to help.

  3. joe schmoe says

    What's the kids name? Perhaps we should all post truthful things about this rapist piece of crap all over the web.

  4. says

    Joe, the purpose of this post is to seek legal assistance for threatened bloggers and commenters. I may report on the story later. But I have seen nothing suggesting that the individual himself is suspected of rape, as my post specifically says.

  5. Caudex says

    Unfortunately I'm not a lawyer, so I can't help much. But if you need a bored English Major (nothing else to do but study) for anything, I'm your guy. I need to feel like I'm doing something to fix the system.

  6. Caudex says

    Jeez, that sentence doesn't make me look like a very smart English Major. But I think it's still comprehensible. Now, I need to sleep. Fall Behind is right…fall behind on sleep.

  7. says

    Not only are they going after the blogger and commentators, the sympathizers are now going after anyone who blogs about this. This is the only way those of us who are not in the legal field can help, and they are trying to silence us. For shame. I will keep blogging this in my efforts to help as long as it takes. I hope you find some good people to help these folks.. we are all under attack with this.

  8. En Passant says

    Ken wrote in OP:

    This may be a case like the Planet Valenti matter where local power politics play a role.

    Found the criminal case, the blogger, and some info on the civil case. Without mentioning names or speculating and contributing to a s***storm, I think it is worth noting in support of your observation above that (if my deductions about the case are correct) both the judge and lo cal prosecutor in the juvy case have recused themselves. The former was replaced by a retired judge from a nearby county and the latter by state prosecutors.

  9. En Passant says

    To clarify my observation above (sorry for posting before thinking it through thoroughly): The recusals appear to be for perfectly legitimate reasons that often occur when high profile locals are accused of crimes. The officials appear to have had some personal acquaintance with persons involved in the case.

    That would indicate some good ethical decisions by the public officials, especially if local politics pressured them to proceed otherwise.

  10. Dan Weber says

    Unfortunately for our society, I found multiple possible real life stories this one could be. :(

  11. Scott says

    I am an administrator of a criminology blog, not associated with the one mentioned in your posting, but I am willing to help in any way I can. My experiences include Legal document writing and a variety of knowledge. In some cases where the defendant (or prosecutor) cannot afford the fees associated with the case, the Judge can grant a waiver, though at the moment, I cannot recall the legal term. Anything I can do, let me know. http://criminologyjust.blogspot.com I am Scott

  12. AlphaCentauri says

    They're going after commenters criticizing rapists and rape-voyeurs, but not the people tweeting about how hilarious it was to rape "a dead body" after the photo was posted on facebook?? No wonder the kid's messed up. He wouldn't recognizd morals if they've never entered the door to his family home.

  13. ElSuerte says

    I really hope this doesn't turn out to be one of those 'bad clients make bad law' things, like Crystal Cox. If I found the blog you're talking about the blogger seems a bit of a crank. He spent around three very looong posts attacking the DA who recused herself. He spends an inordinate amount of text (Complete with a biblical rant) attacking her for being a character witness at a sentencing hearing, and seems to be claiming this is evidence of general impropriety and proclivity to conspire against justice. (The defendant in the sentencing hearing was a life long friend of her child, and she'd know the defendant since he was a child.)

  14. ElSuerte says

    Also, I'm a little confused about the fact/opinion division.

    Isn't the allegation that so and so stood around and photographed a rape in progress a allegation/statement of fact?

  15. KronWeld says

    @ElSuerte Being a jerk doens't mean you lose your 1st Amendment rights. Also, you shouldn't have a right to sue over being butthurt.

  16. says

    @Ken – I wrote you privately but decided to go find out what this was all about – your word is more than good enough for me – but figured I'd just see what I could find. Uhhhh! Well, anything I can do to help – sign me up.