Buzzfeed News profiles Marc Randazza and explores his high-profile, controversial cases

November 1, 2018

Marc Randazza, the lawyer working to protect First Amendment rights of people spewing socially undesirable speech, recently opened up to Buzzfeed News about his devotion to the First Amendment and how representing neo-Nazis, trolls, and Satanists helps him uphold what he believes is one of the most important ideals this country was founded upon.

The First Amendment guarantees United States citizens a constitutional right to freedom of speech. Government cannot infringe upon this right, although certain types of speech such as incitement, obscenity, and defamation do receive less protection. Protection can be based on the place in which speech occurs. For instance, speech that takes place on the campus of a public school has high First Amendment protection but speech in a private workplace receives little protection. Between court rulings and interpretation of the Constitution, protections of free speech have become pretty well defined over the last several decades. However, there’s one grey area that is polarizing First Amendment advocates today – speech on the Internet.

That’s where Randazza focuses much of his effort.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects technology platforms from liability based on their users’ content, but despite this protection, tech giants are restricting their users’ speech. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube claim they can take down any content they consider inappropriate or objectionable. Moreover, these platforms claim they have the right to ban undesirable members. Randazza believes that the Internet is a de facto public space, meaning it is privately owned yet publicly accessible, and therefore, online platforms must be more tolerant of such speech, especially given that they are afforded immunity through the CDA.

One group that claims they are a target of such discrimination are white nationalists. While their rhetoric is seemingly experiencing a wave of popularity, it’s also publicly despised and tech giants are being accused of suppressing it. Scratch the surface of Jared Taylor’s lawsuit against Twitter or Alex Jones’ lawsuit against PayPal and you’ll understand why Randazza thinks white nationalists are one of today’s most vulnerable groups in regard to the suppression of free speech.

Randazza has received heavy criticism from his peers not so much for his position, but more so for representing extremists like Taylor and Jones. But, he believes that protecting First Amendment rights is a matter of principle, not message.

“Sometimes we have to take people on who we find unsavory, but that’s what a commitment to the First Amendment means,” said Randazza.

Read the full article about Marc Randazza on Buzzfeed News.


Randazza: The Legal Battle Over Andrew Anglin Continues

December 5, 2017

An article about one of Marc Randazza’s most controversial and groundbreaking cases  – a case involving the founder of a Neo-Nazi website Andrew Anglin – was published in the December issue of the Atlantic magazine.

The article, “The Making of an American Nazi”, tells the story of the founder of The Daily Stormer: the site that is arguably the leading hate site and neo-Nazi platform on the internet. Anglin is now being sued for allegedly harassing Tanya Gersh, a Whitefish, Montana, real estate agent, and orchestrating an anti-Semitic online trolling campaign against her family.

In April, she filed a lawsuit claiming that anonymous internet trolls started bombarding her family with hateful and threatening messages after Anglin wrote a post blaming Gersh for engaging in “extortion” regarding a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son is another white nationalist and arguably the face of the alt-right movement. In that post, Anglin shared personal details, including photographs of Gersh’s family and other Jewish citizens of Whitefish, and called on his supporters, the “Stormer Troll Army” – to “hit ’em up.”

Currently, Gersh is suing Anglin for invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of a Montana anti-intimidation statute. Marc Randazza is representing Anglin in this case. Anglin is also accused of unleashing a campaign against other Jewish residents of Whitefish, as well as “cyberstalking” and aggressive online trolling of other people, whose identity or views are not in line with his beliefs as a white nationalist.

It’s also reported that apart from committing the aforementioned activities, encouraging his followers and fellow nationalists to share his views online and participate in cyber trolling campaigns; Anglin allegedly continued to grow his audience and supposedly urged them to take their hate from the online to the real world.

Marc Randazza, the managing partner of the Randazza Legal Group, is representing Andrew Anglin. This lawsuit has attracted the attention of legal experts and the public not only due to Anglin’s notorious personality, but because it’s the first time that an internet troll is being sued for his actions.

However, according to Marc Randazza, a well-known First Amendment attorney and a fighter for free speech, restricting Anglin’s online trolling may set a dangerous precedent for the American legal system. As Mr. Randazza commented, Anglin “has every right to ask people to share their views, no matter how abhorrent those views are…this is the shitty price we have to pay for freedom.”


Shouldn’t I get CLE for watching?

February 23, 2016

by Jay Marshall Wolman

As a lawyer admitted in multiple jurisdictions, I find myself having to ensure I keep up with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements.  With my CIPP/US certification, I also have continuing education requirements.  Doctors have CME requirements, and other certifications and professions have their own continuing education requirements.  And some don’t.

For example, I’m admitted in New York, D.C., Massachusetts, and Connecticut.  Only one, New York, requires that I engage in continuing legal education. The rest just recommend it.  (Connecticut is in the midst of a debate as to requiring it.)

Continuing education can be a good thing.  Rather than having to retake the bar exam every 10 years, the theory of CLE is to ensure that lawyers remain up to date with developments in the law.  But the theory doesn’t work.

Here’s how I satisfy my biennial 24 hours of NY CLE requirements:  about two months before the due date, I scurry around to find the $99 special for a package of .mp3 recordings containing all mandatory hours.  Then, as I have time in the mornings or evenings, I listen to them.  It’s great to learn about developments in the uniform probate code or handling DUI cases–except that’s not what I practice.  Most of my mandatory CLE is dreck.

One time, I bought a package of all employment law CLE courses.  Not bad, but there was quite a lot of repetition among them.  And still, the package contained hours on employee benefits law, which is not what I practice.  Now, if Connecticut adopts a CLE requirement, I can only hope that the packages I buy will be dual-certified for NY and CT, else it will set me up for an even further waste of time.

Yet, as a lawyer, I continue to develop my practice.  I blog, with many pieces requiring me to learn new and burgeoning areas of the law.  Even my Third Amendment blog required me to read several new law review articles and recent caselaw.  I attend bar programs, listen to webinars, write articles, and read legal developments, many of which aren’t CLE certified.  For example, I just listened to yesterday’s legal blogging panel featuring Scott Greenfield, Keith Lee, Mark Bennett, and Brian Tannebaum; though perhaps it could get certified for NY CLE ethics and practice management, I don’t believe it is.  But a lawyer can learn a lot from it.

Lawyers who get disbarred have kept up with their CLE requirements.  Lawyers who lose malpractice cases have kept up with their CLE requirements.  Lawyers whose clients successfully argue ineffective assistance of counsel have kept up with their CLE requirements.  Opposing counsel who write inane demand letters and absurd pleadings/briefs have kept up with their CLE requirements.

Lawyers already have an ethical duty to be competent, as do those with other licenses and certifications.  Continuing education may be an effort by proxy to ensure competence, but though good in theory, it is lousy in practice.  If the goal is to protect the clients, requiring mandatory professional liability insurance is the best bet.  If the goal is to make the local bar seem more diligent, I can’t imagine who would really care if their criminal lawyer just wasted 2 hours on patent law developments.  If the goal is to perpetuate an industry of CLE providers–well, that one is successful.

 


How to cite to Walter Sobchak

October 11, 2014

If you don’t know what the deal is with prior restraint, here, watch:

There. Simple. Right?

THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!

I wish I could just submit that clip to the next judge who even considers granting one. Just hold up a chromebook with that on it, play it, drop it on the floor, and walk out.

Dudeists have known this since 1998, and even most Dudeists were a bit late to the party.

I suppose that should not complain about misguided souls trying to get prior restraints.

If they stopped, I might actually have to find a less enjoyable way to make a living than being able to stand there with my arm around the Constitution, channelling Walter Sobchak. There is not much more career-choice-affirming than that.

Nevertheless, one after the other, they keep on coming — defamation plaintiffs who think that they’ve found the magic bullet that gets them a prior restraint. Hell, sometimes they even convince judges to grant them – which is even more awesome, because it then gets me a chance to get an appellate decision slapping it down.

In fact, I secretly hope that I will lose every prior restraint argument before the trial court. In 99% of those cases, the judge should look at the plaintiff and say “are you out of your fucking mind? Your motion is denied. THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT!”

Well what fun is that? I guess it would be fun as all hell if the judge actually did that.

But, when they get slapped down for being dumb, it helps get the word around to other judges who haven’t heard about this new thing called The First Amendment. I Each time a judge gets reversed for granting a prior restraint – which is exactly every fucking time unless the speech is about secret troop movements, it could help the next dumbass who managed to get elected to the bench. It could also help lawyers with this other new thing called “client control.”

I, myself, represent an occasional defamation plaintiff or two. Plaintiff’s side cases can be fun. But, they always start with the discussion about prior restraint.

The conversation that goes sorta like this:

Client: “I want a preliminary injunction in my defamation case.”

Me: “Wrong country, dude.”

Client: “Come on, at least try

Me: “FOR YOUR INFORMATION, THE SUPREME COURT HAS ROUNDLY REJECTED PRIOR RESTRAINT! So, no. No. No. No. I’m not even gonna fucking try. You know why? Because it is stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I may not be the smartest lawyer in the world, but I’m not stupid enough to seek a prior restraint. You want an injunction, go hire another lawyer who is willing to look like an idiot and waste your money. After he gets his ass handed to him, come back and I’ll handle your case competently, not like the fuckwit that you finally arrive at after you get to the bottom of the barrel, and then dig your way through the wood to the other fucking side of the barrel, now shut the fuck up about an injunction or get out of my fucking office and take your retainer check with you!

MARK IT ZERO!”

Client: “Ok, ok… just take it easy, man.”

Me: “I’m perfectly calm, dude.”

Client: “Just take it easy.”

Me: “Calmer than you are.”

Now on the other hand, when I get a defense case where there is a prior restraint? Then I get all happy. The first draft of my opposition inevitably has the Walter Sobchak quote in it. But, it always gets taken out. Citing to a fictional character just doesn’t seem like the right call when you’re making a serious point.

The Big Lehrmann

The Big Lehrmann

Not anymore.

Friends, Americans, Dudeists: We have arrived. Justice Debra H. Lehrmann of the Texas Supreme Court gave footnote 7 in Kinney v. Barnes, 57 Tex. Sup. J. 1428 (Tex. 2014).

The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.” … This cornerstone of First Amendment protections has been reaffirmed time and again by the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture(7). (citations and other footnotes omitted)

And that “7” brings us to this… get a handkerchief, because you’re gonna weep.

The Big Lebowski (PolyGram Filmed Entertainment & Working Title Films 1998) (“For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint.”).

Now, of course, The Big Lehrmann (as she shall now be known) can get away with citing it that way. But, I can’t see a trial court in Muskegon, Des Moines, or even Los Angeleez going for that. But, The Big Lehrmann now gives us the respectability and acceptance that Constantine once gave to the early Christians.

So now, I’ll tell you how to cite this. And before you trot out the bluebook, fuck the bluebook.

The next time you are arguing against a prior restraint, this is how you cite to the wisdom of Sobchak:

Kinney v. Barnes, 57 Tex. Sup. J. 1428 at n.7, (Tex. 2014) (citing SOBCHAK, W., THE BIG LEBOWSKI, 1998).

This affects all of us man.

Our basic freedoms!

—-

UPDATE: I personally use the “small caps” option when citing. But, wordpress does not seem to have that option.

Related: The post that inspired this one, How to cite to Buzz Lightyear.


Bloggers are protected as “Media” – Comins v. VanVoorhis (Chapter 2)

April 13, 2014

It’s an all-too-common scenario: A blogger criticizes someone online, and then gets sued for his statements.   But two things make this case unique: First, the plaintiff sued because of the blogger’s characterizations of him shooting two dogs at close range; second, the defendant blogger was in Florida – and thus protected by Fla. Stat. § 770.01. (I am proud to have represented Mr. VanVoorhis, the blogger in this case).

Florida’s pre-suit notice statute, § 770.01, requires defamation plaintiffs to alert defendants to the allegedly defamatory material before filing suit. The statute reads, in its entirety:

770.01 Notice condition precedent to action or prosecution for libel or slander.

Before any civil action is brought for publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium, of a libel or slander, the plaintiff shall, at least 5 days before instituting such action, serve notice in writing on the defendant, specifying the article or broadcast and the statements therein which he or she alleges to be false and defamatory

Florida’s appellate courts have interpreted this very strictly. Essentially, the statute doesn’t let you sue someone (as long as they are covered by the statute) unless you meet its conditions. It has a tendency to relieve courts of the burden of at least some frivolous defamation litigation, because the statute requires a defamation plaintiff to focus his attention on what, precisely, he finds to be defamatory and to articulate his concerns in writing. Theoretically, we must presume that such an exercise generates at least some self-reflection by parties and attorneys who might otherwise file unsupportable SLAPP suits.

The fact that 770.01 applies to newspapers and periodicals has never been challenged. When the legislature added “other medium” to the statute in 1976, I think it was being forward-thinking in trying to make the statute broad enough to embrace new media that might come into being. I always felt that “other medium” was clear enough. The Internet is a “medium,” so why shouldn’t 770.01 protect bloggers? We raised that issue at the trial court in this case, and the court gave us a pretty succinct ruling in our favor. (Trial Court Order).

Comins appealed, and he took the position that the words “other medium” did not extend to the Internet, and even if it did, it would only apply to news media. (Appellant’s brief at 14-15). Comins further argued that even if it extended to the Internet, Mr. VanVoorhis was not a “media defendant,” since he was not “a journalist.”

We argued that the language “or other medium” includes the Internet, and most certainly includes blogs. (Answer Brief). In fact, we took the position that the statute should apply to everyone, media, non-media, or anyone else. (The court did not hold that broadly). However, we also argued that no matter how the court looked at the scope of 770.01, it should apply to our client, because he was a “media defendant,” despite the fact that he “only” published on a blog.

The essential point, which the appellate court agreed with, is that a “journalist” is not something you are but is rather something that you do. Mr. VanVoorhis’ blog was journalism, and thus he was considered to be a “media defendant.” In agreeing, the appellate court gave us some wonderful language supporting the proposition that bloggers serve an essential function.

[I]t is hard to dispute that the advent of the internet as a medium and the emergence of the blog as a means of free dissemination of news and public comment have been transformative. By some accounts, there are in the range of 300 million blogs worldwide. The variety and quality of these are such that the word “blog” itself is an evolving term and concept. The impact of blogs has been so great that even terms traditionally well defined and understood in journalism are changing as journalists increasingly employ the tools and techniques of bloggers – and vice versa. In employing the word “blog,” we consider a site operated by a single individual or a small group that has primarily an informational purpose, most commonly in an area of special interest, knowledge or expertise of the blogger, and which usually provides for public impact or feedback. In that sense, it appears clear that many blogs and bloggers will fall within the broad reach of “media,” and, if accused of defamatory statements, will qualify as a “media defendant” for purposes of Florida’s defamation law as discussed above.

There are many outstanding blogs on particular topics, managed by persons of exceptional expertise, to whom we look for the most immediate information on recent developments and on whom we rely for informed explanations of the meaning of these developments. Other blogs run the gamut of quality of expertise, explanation and even- handed treatment of their subjects. We are not prepared to say that all blogs and all bloggers would qualify for the protection of section 770.01, Florida Statutes, but we conclude that VanVoorhis’s blog, at issue here, is within the ambit of the statute’s protection as an alternative medium of news and public comment.

The presuit notice requirement of section 770.01 applies to allegedly defamatory statements made in such a public medium the purpose of which is the free dissemination of news or analytical comment on matters of public concern.(Op. at 23-24)

In other words, if a blog is a legitimate news source, it is just as protected as if it were The New York Times.

But, the court did not go so far as to say that everyone gets protection under the statute, and not every blog is a member of the media. There are certainly blogs out there that have different missions, and those would not be covered.

This is a great decision for bloggers, especially those who might find themselves under the threat of a defamation suit in Florida.

As a practice note, I have often said that filing a defamation claim in Florida without sending a 770.01 notice should be per se legal malpractice. The simple exercise of sending a letter, where you articulate your legal theory, should be no great burden on any plaintiff. This case should make that clear. We certainly believed (and argued) that the defense should have prevailed on the merits. See Answer brief at 36-68. However, neither the trial court nor the appellate court ever looked at the merits — since the claims were barred completely by the plaintiff’s failure to comply with the simple exercise of sending a pre-suit letter.

Conversely, if you’re defending a blogger in Florida, do not fail to raise the 770.01 issue at the pleading stage. While it may be more satisfying to prevail on the actual merits of the case, this route is a lot easier and cheaper than a trial on the merits.

Case Documents:

    Comins Appellant Brief

    Van Voorhis Answer and Cross-Appeal Brief

    Comins’ Reply and Cross-Appeal Opposition

    Van Voorhis’ Cross-Appeal Reply Brief

    Appellate Court Opinion


Law Enforcement Priorities

April 13, 2014

I’ve been involved in the debate over whether we should criminalize “revenge porn.” As much as I despise the practice, I don’t agree with new criminal laws to punish it. In fact, I just spent some time on a panel at Stanford Law School, in the company of three people I greatly admire — one of whom (Attorney Erica Johnstone — one of the founders of “Without My Consent“) is a strong proponent of enacting new criminal laws to punish “Non-Consensual Porn.”

We had a very respectful debate over our differing opinions. During that discussion, I shared one of my rationales — that law enforcement just won’t give a shit. I’ve personally spoken with prosecutors about revenge porn cases in which the victim is underage — so a bona fide child pornography prosecution, wrapped up in a nice little bow for them. All they need to do is go grab the perpetrator.

The reaction?

“We just don’t have the resources to go after every one of these guys.”

Ok, fair enough. A 14 year old girl who had her life thrown upside-down. A child who expected that the state might give a shit about her. She’s not a priority. I’m not going to shit on law enforcement for making that judgment call, although that might seem to be a proper reaction. Lets look at it this way — that 14 year old girl had her life thrown upside down, but somewhere maybe, there’s an 8 year old girl tied up in a basement, and they need the resources they have in order to go save her. Fair enough?

But then, if that’s our rationale for ignoring the 14 year old, how are we ever going to convince a detective or a prosecutor to go after the ex-wife of a 35 year old guy who might wind up on an Non-Consensual Porn website, because his ex got pissed off at him and submitted some cock shots to the latest NCP site?

We aren’t.

When I get interviewed about this kind of thing, I often mock our law enforcement priorities – stating “If there were some underage kids drinking, or an old lady smoking pot for her glaucoma, they’d send in the troops. But, not for this kind of thing.”

Yeah… exactly. Swat teams for small amounts of marijuana, which never hurt anyone. Meanwhile, the kids I represent in civil cases can’t get law enforcement to give a shit about them, because resources.

You know, resources spent going after middle aged women who are buying plant food – because sometimes you might catch someone with a little bit of weed. (One of many sources)


An Open Letter to Journalists

March 7, 2014

Dear Members of the Media,

I sincerely appreciate all of your hard work in bringing us the news of the day. In this day and age, there is a lot of burgeoning information and it is cumbersome to sift through all of it to provide summaries to the masses. However, there is one thing you do not do that is incredibly frustrating–provide citations.

In reporting on a new science publication, you do not always provide a citation so that the interested reader can learn more. Worse, you rarely identify bill numbers, session laws, or case name/citations when reporting legal news. As a privacy attorney, I found the recent Massachusetts “upskirting” issue might warrant attention. It would have been helpful if you cited the case as Comm. v. Robertson, SJC-11353 (Mar. 5, 2014), even better if you provided a link: http://www.socialaw.com/slip.htm?cid=22645&sid=120 . Or, when the legislature promptly acted to outlaw the actions taken by Mr. Robertson, it would have been nice if you cited Acts of 2014, Chapter 23 (or H. 3934): https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2014/Chapter43

As a journalist, I am assuming you read the primary source, so that way I can trust your reporting, correct? So, since you have the primary source, please make it easier for us and let us know how we can find it, too. Because, if you don’t share, it might turn out that you missed the real story. Let me spell it out for you–Massachusetts just made many previously lawful and proper hidden security cameras potentially unlawful.

According to the new law, it is now unlawful to secretly record images of fully clothed breasts, buttocks and genitals. Full stop. Your nanny thinks she’s alone, but you have a nanny-cam. Sorry, you probably just broke the law. You want to know which of the neighborhood kids have been going into your backyard when you aren’t home and stomping your daisies? That’s double the punishment.

Bad reporting of bad reactionary legislative lawyering. At least the reporting can be easily fixed.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Jay M. Wolman