The Jewish Star on the Orthomom Lawsuit
The Jewish Star has published a story on the lawsuit. Here's most of it:
A Lawrence school board trustee is suing the widely read Five Towns blogger known as "Orthomom,"claiming that she was defamed by online comments that referred to her as a "bigot" and an "anti-Semite."I especially like the part where we hear from School Board President Asher Mansdorf about Pamela Greenbaum's touching concern over the possibility of "chilling free speech". I can tell how broken up she gets over the prospect.
Pamela Greenbaum said she hopes to force Google, which hosts the Orthomom blog, to release information that would enable her to identify the blogger and bring legal action directly against her.
The lawsuit was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Feb. 13.
In a sworn statement, Greenbaum said, "Orthomom and her readers in the comments section have posted false, slanderous and defamatory statements about me ... for my positions advocating against the use of public school district funds for private school interests."
Under oath, Greenbaum claimed that Orthomom made the comments in a posting on Jan. 11 concerning an article in The Jewish Star. In the article, Greenbaum was quoted as saying she would object if public-school teachers were involved in a proposed after-school program for private-school students.
Orthomom responded, "Wow. Way to make it clear that you have no interest in helping the private school community inanyfashion." The response did not include the words "bigot" or "anti-Semite." An anonymous commenter posted the statement "Pam Greenbaum is a bigot and really should not be on the board," and a second agreed.
Via e-mail, Orthomom said she believes that Greenbaum's filings contained falsehoods. "There's not a word in there that I wrote," she said. "Not only is she incorrect, but she attributed to me completely fabricated statements out of whole cloth."
"A quick perusal of my postings will assure that the comments in question were made not in my name," she said, "but in the name of an unknown anonymous commenter."
In fact, an examination by The Jewish Star of all 150 Comments filed that day turned up just two instances of the term "anti-Semite." In both the word was misspelled, rendered as "semetic." Neither was aimed at Greenbaum, but seemed to refer instead to the private-school parents on the board. For example: "We would rather the state step in than have to put up with the closeminded anti semetic jews who run this district, I am ashamed to be a jew as well."
The heart of the matter, according to Jonathan Ezor, director of the Institute for
Business, Law and Technology at the Touro Law Center and an assistant professor there, is that "Unless Google and/or Orthomom actually wrote the allegedly defamatory things in question, federal law immunizes them from lawsuit. That has been repeatedly challenged, and the law remains current."
When contacted by phone, Greenbaum refused to comment. A call to her attorney, Adam Feder of North Woodmere, who filed the suit, was not returned.
"I also want to stress that Pamela Greenbaum is not the victim here," Orthomom said via e-mail. "I am the victim of a frivolous motion filed in an attempt to quash free speech while wasting the court's time and money."
Paul Alan Levy is an attorney with the group Public Citizen, which successfully represented a blogger in Rockland County who was sued after he publicized alleged misdeeds of a well-known rabbinical figure. In that case, the rabbi who brought the suit "was slapped with a twenty thousand dollar attorney fee," said Levy, under New York State's 'Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation' statute, known as SLAPP.
"If I were Pamela Greenbaum I would worry about getting hit with a SLAPP motion," he said, "because it's hard to see the basis for this action. If this were an attempt to silence an active voice leading up to a school board election, then Pamela Greenbaum ought to think about whether it's worth the risk."
There is also the question of whether calling public official names meets the legal definition of defamation. "A third party calling someone bigoted on my site in response to a public policy policy comment hardly crosses the line of defamation," Orthomom said.
School board President Asher Mansdorf said he was "astonished" to learn about the lawsuit. "Following the very personal death threat issued against me and my family, I requested that as a security measure, photo ID be required to enter Lawrence school board meetings. Pamela's knee-jerk reaction was to state that the effect of this on the public would be 'chilling.' Does Pam not think that a lawsuit will have a chilling effect on free speech?" Mansdorf recalled, "She often advised that I develop a 'thick skin' and ignore the comments. I suppose it is easier to give advice than to listen to one's own."
"As a board member for many years, and one who has faced a tremendous amount of criticism, the idea of attempting to shut down a public blog and attack what I consider the first amendment is beyond belief," said Trustee David Sussman. "Clearly, when you go into the public arena, a lot is said about you, both good and bad. If you can't take that, then you have no place in the public arena."
Orthomom's true identity is a closely guarded secret believed to be known by only a handful of people. For interested parties, including some dedicated readers, it is the subject of parlor game-like speculation. Is Greenbaum's lawsuit to unmask her likely to succeed? No, according to Ezor. "Anonymous identities are generally protected by the First Amendment," he said. "Unless there is some legal claim against Orthomom, there wouldn't be justification for a court to order Google to release her identity."
..."In short," said Public Citizen's Levy, "there's really nothing to this case."