2016.016: Jill Filipovic Makes Readers Stupider

When someone writing for a popular website says:

Before I was a journalist full-time, I was a lawyer. I didn’t do criminal defense work, but I am the daughter of a public defender, and the friend, former classmate, and former colleague of dozens of defense lawyers. I’m not a religious person, but if there is anything I believe is the Lord’s work, it is criminal defense, especially as a public defender for the indigent. It is under-paid, vilified, time-sucking, emotionally depleting work. It is also the backbone of our justice system. It is the last line of defense — the only line of defense — for millions of people, many of them young men, many of them poor, many of them of color, in a criminal justice system that houses more people in prisons than any society in the history of the world. Here in the United States, we put people in jail for a very long time and we ostracize them when they come out, breeding cycles of crime, poverty, and marginalization. Large corporations profit from this mass incarceration; politicians are elected because of it. We have built a moral disaster, and criminal defenders are some of the only bulwarks against that.

… you just know there’s a big “but” coming along.

And sure enough:

There’s an opportunity and an obligation for the legal profession here too. While the American Bar Association offers lots of information on representing or recommending legal counsel to victims of sexual violence, there’s far less guidance on the ethics of defending those accused. There’s no question that it is of course ethical to defend accused rapists, but the how matters. Does a zealous defense require going down every possible avenue, including those that feed into misogyny and victim-blaming — and which create future case law that entrenches misogyny and victim-blaming as par for the course in defending sexual violence cases? How does one draw the line, even, between victim-blaming and painting the circumstances in a light most favorable to your client — especially if your only defense is consent? Do lawyers have an obligation only to the individual client before them, or is there some greater duty we owe society to not cement its greatest ills into place — which would require not playing on racial animus or sexism or other forms of bias that lawyers can, and routinely do, manipulate to further their case?

These are not easy questions, and, even among feminist lawyers, there are not simple, clear answers. What is obvious is that we are long overdue for a profession-wide grappling.

Criminal defense is the Lord’s work … but maybe not if it feeds into misogyny and victim-blaming. It is (“of course”) ethical to defend accused rapists, as long as you don’t defend them too zealously.

Jill Filipovic says these “are not easy questions.” That may be true among the ethically clueless, but they actually are easy questions among the only lawyers whose opinion matters: not “the profession,” but the criminal-defense lawyers who face from day to day the question, “how hard should I come at this witness?”

Filipovic casts herself as one of those facing these questions: “is there some greater duty we owe society…?” Filipovic is not one of us. Most lawyers are not criminal-defense lawyers. They might like to think of themselves as being in the club with Atticus Finch, but they aren’t. They belong to very different clubs, they make different impacts on the world, and most importantly they have different measures of success. Criminal-defense lawyers don’t generally give a damn what these other lawyers think about what we do.

Why? Because unless you are on our jury, our contract — the Sixth Amendment — trumps your feelings about the job we are doing, the questions you are asking, or the arguments we are making. We figure — and Filipovic’s article (she’s the daughter of a public defender, no less) confirms — that if you are not one of us you have no clue about the ethics of the job.

So: You want to shame us into going easy on accusers? The Sixth Amendment trumps your shame. You want to call it “victim blaming” when we don’t go easy on accusers? The Sixth Amendment trumps your catchphrases. You want the ABA to offer guidance on defending those accused of rape in a politically correct way? Screw the ABA. The Sixth Amendment trumps that too.

There is plenty of opportunity for social activism when we are off duty, but the criminal-defense lawyer’s sole duty to society in the representation of a client is to defend the client as zealously as the law permits. This is neither a close call or a new idea:

An advocate, in the discharge of his duty, knows but one person in all the world, and that person is his client. To save that client by all means and expedients, and at all hazards and costs to other persons, and, amongst them, to himself, is his first and only duty; and in performing this duty he must not regard the alarm, the torments, the destruction which he may bring upon others.

—Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux. (H/T Nicholas Sarwark.)

(I’ve also written about this here.)

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2016.015: A Prosecutor is Falsely Accused

I’m not buying it.

I don’t believe that Harris County ADA Justin Keiter “used his DEA thugs to write a JUDGELESS WARRANT to attempt to terrorize Dr. Blanchette by Trashing Her Office, in an attempt to get even for Dr. Blanchette helping put Justin’s father away for another 20 years.”

The sins of the father are not the sins of the son. Unless I am very much mistaken (and I seldom find myself so mistaken about people’s motivation) Keiter is motivated to zealotry by the desire to distance himself from his father’s crimes. The allegation that he “has been Covering up Crimes of his Father for Years” strikes me as unlikely in the extreme. Blanchette’s erratic capitalization — one hallmark of a nutjob — does nothing to make her accusations more credible.

So: False? Probably.

Defamatory? Possibly. Keiter, being a public figure,1 must show that Blanchette wrote with actual malice — not that she wanted to hurt him, but that she knew that her accusations were false or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity. This may be untrue — Blanchette may well believe that Keiter did the things she has accused him of.

Damages? The accusations are incredible enough that I doubt that Keiter can prove much in the way of actual damages. He still has his job, and I doubt that anyone in the DA’s Office believes the accusations any more than I do. Actual damages? Nominal.

Exemplary damages? I happened upon this petition because I read every defamation petition filed with the Harris County District Clerk, and have done so for over a year. Keiter’s lawyers have done something that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen done in a lawsuit in this county: they pled in the petition that they sent a cease-and-desist letter as required by Section 73.055 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code before a plaintiff can maintain a defamation suit. (They pled that it was under “§73.005,” but that typo is probably harmless.) Most lawyers suing people for defamation don’t make the required request for retraction, which is fatal to a request for exemplary damages and may be fatal to the suit itself. By jumping through the procedural hoops Keiter’s lawyers have at least maintained the possibility of exemplary damages.

The next step for Blanchette, once she gets served with the petition and hires a lawyer, will be to file an answer, and then an anti-SLAPP motion under Chapter 27 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code. She will have to show that her statements were “made in connection with a matter of public concern” — easy enough — and Keiter will then have to “establish[] by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in question” — including actual malice. If he doesn’t, his case gets dismissed and he gets to pay Blanchette’s legal fees. If he does, the case goes forward.

That Blanchette knew her allegations to be false (or was reckless about whether they were) is a tough make-or-break proposition, but fortunately for Keiter the court can allow “specified and limited discovery relevant to the motion,” including Blanchette’s deposition.

Won’t that be fun!

Keiter v Blanchette Petition

  1. The accusations relate to his conduct as a public official. 

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2016.014: Gawker, Thiel, and the Future of Free Speech

What I write is what I mean. I will not gertrude. If you read into my words support or opposition for something other than I explicitly support or oppose, you are a fool.

The revelation that Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker was bankrolled by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, who had a hardon for the media company because it outed him as gay, has prompted some interesting discussions.

If you love free speech, a billionaire’s successful bankrolling of a company-killing lawsuit over the nonconsensual publication1 of a sex tape is not cause for celebration. While one, especially one on the right, might reasonably find joy in the destruction of a leftwing media company publishing pornography without its subjects’ consent, broader principles dictate wariness of covert financing of lawsuits punishing speech.

This is not about the social consequences of speech, but rather about the legal consequences. Thiel did not organize a boycott or fund Gawker’s competitor. He used the coercive power of the state to destroy his enemy. The First Amendment applies not only to state action in the form of prosecutions and regulation, but also to state action in the form of civil lawsuits.

If you love free speech, state action punishing the nonconsensual publication of pornography should concern you.

But it’s just a civil suit.

The Supreme Court has not distinguished between the free speech applicable in a civil suit and the free speech applicable in a criminal prosecution (except to mention in dicta that the free-speech rules might be laxer in the latter where procedural safeguards are stricter). The procedural stature of civil cases reaching the Supreme Court is very different than the procedural stature of criminal cases: the former have made it past a jury, and the latter are (or should be) as-written challenges independent of the facts. But if it’s constitutionally okay for a jury to punish a defendant for saying something, there is nothing to stop the government from making it illegal to say the same thing.

But Gawker is the press.

The free-speech rules are not different for the press than for ordinary folks. The press thinks so—it has historically expressed little interest in the plebes’ freedom of speech, as long as the government isn’t going after the organized media. And the ordinary folks think so—they generally believe that the media has special privileges and special responsibilities—but in fact the Washington Post has no more right to say a thing than you or I have. If it’s constitutionally okay for a jury to punish a media defendant for saying something, there is nothing to stop the government from making it illegal for you to say the same thing.

But I would not say such things.

The Supreme Court has recognized certain categories of historically unprotected speech and allowed liability (civil and criminal, against the media and individuals) whose speech falls into those categories. No yet-recognized category of historically unprotected speech includes Gawker’s speech in this case — the nonconsensual publication of a sex tape. All speech within an unprotected category is unprotected. The First Amendment is not a scalpel, and the Supreme Court has not shown a willingness to micromanage freedom of speech. The narrowest category of unprotected speech yet recognized is “child pornography,” and that is arguably a subset of “speech incident to criminal activity” because the distribution and possession of child pornography are so entwined with child sex abuse.

So while you would not say such things, there is no guarantee (and it is quite unlikely) that a newly recognized category of unprotected speech would include only things that you think should not be said. Unless you make the category very narrow (something that the Supreme Court has not shown a willingness to do) I can describe a case in which, at least arguably, the speech should be protected. That’s the thing about the unprotected categories being categories — no defamation should be protected, no child pornography should be protected, no solicitation of a crime should be protected.

For example, suppose that you propose the obvious category: “images of a person engaged in sexual conduct, published without that person’s consent.” I would describe a case involving a high-ranking government official and her Russian spy boyfriend. But wait, you say, while the fact of that video’s existence is important, showing it is not. Somebody, I would reply, has to see it, and for someone to see it someone must publish it. So even if it isn’t widely published, someone has engaged in unprotected speech (incurring possible liability) by sending it to CNN.

Yeah, but that’d be newsworthy, and the Hulk Hogan tape was not.

“Newsworthiness” is not a criterion endorsed by the Supreme Court. It applies only in privacy tort cases, and the Supreme Court has never signed off on liability for speech violating privacy. Further, “newsworthiness” is in the eye of the beholder. Hulk Hogan found a jury in Pinellas County, Florida that thought the video of his having sex with his best friend’s wife was not newsworthy; a jury elsewhere might have disagreed.  A jury in Norfolk, Virginia in 1971 might have found the Pentagon Papers not to be newsworthy. The power to decide whether speech is newsworthy is the power to censor.

There are people on the left who want government censorship. They want to criminalize revenge porn, and satire, and criticism. They are playing a long game, whose end includes a state veto over all speech, and despite their being blue and Gawker being blue they cheer Gawker’s destruction because it is a step toward Blue Team’s victory in the long game.

Most of those who cheer Peter Thiel for shutting down Gawker, on the other hand, are playing a short game, thinking no further ahead than Gawker’s destruction, which feels good to them because they are red and Gawker is blue and they feel that Red Team is winning and that feeling is all that matters.

The short game here is for dolts and losers with no imagination. Red Team doesn’t need to decry Thiel’s destruction of Gawker — it feels too good to them for that — but Red Team ought to think twice before joining the authoritarian left Blue Team in cheering it.

  1. There seems to be some debate whether one or more of the participants knew that the tape was being made. 

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2016.013: An Apology

It’s no secret that the groom and I will never be friends. Since he was a baby prosecutor I’ve had grave ethical concerns about him. I’ve named him a couple of times in this blog.

But the groom being fair game doesn’t make the bride fair game.

Someone sent me a link to a story about the groom’s wedding proposal, in which he had faked his own arrest. I shared it in a three-word tweet:

Fascists in Love TweetAt no time did it occur to me that in this, the work of about five seconds, I was painting the bride with the “fascist” label as well as the groom. Of course that’s what the plural does. But the underlying story does not demonstrate the bride’s own authoritarianism: Love is a funny thing, and libertarians fall in love with authoritarians all the time.

Recently I heard that the bride had seen the tweet and been hurt by it.

To the bride: I apologize unreservedly. I had no intention of hurting you. I have deleted the tweet, and will be more mindful in the future of the damage my words can cause to innocent bystanders.

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2016.012: Voir Dire Seminar in Dallas

Along with Heather Barbieri of Plano and Kerri Anderson Donica of Corsicana, I’m course-directing the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Associations’ voir dire seminar in Dallas September 8–9, 2016. Here’s a draft description of the seminar for TCDLA’s marketing:

This two-day intensive seminar — a combination of lectures, discussions, and demonstrations of voir dire strategies and tools — is a must for the criminal-defense lawyer who tries cases.

Jury trials are won and lost in voir dire. Voir dire is not just your only chance to eliminate unfavorable jurors legally, but also your best chance to persuade the jury that your story of the case is the truth.

In Voir Dire Outside the (Jury) Box you will learn theories of voir dire. You will learn inventive and useful techniques for connecting with jurors. You will learn to apply those theories and techniques in specific types of cases. You will be entertained. Your mind will be blown, and you will leave on Friday with something new that will help you win a jury trial on Monday.

Voir Dire Outside the (Jury) Box is a unique opportunity to learn jury selection from the leaders of the Texas criminal-defense bar; it will benefit the newcomer and the veteran alike. The seminar includes a discount on tickets to the Dallas Comedy House’s Thursday evening improv show. And, as always, scholarships are available.

As well as the usual popular topics — error preservation, defenses, jury suppression voir dire, DWI voir dire, child sex assault voir dire, and so forth — we plan to introduce some new ways of looking at the whole voir dire process. The promise of blown minds is mine, and I am not one to overpromise.

Join us in Dallas. Calendar it now.

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2016.011: Followup on Three Good Deeds

Apropos of this post, I learned some interesting things at the courthouse.

Rumor is that the judge put Sam up to commenting on my blog — believable, since Sam isn’t the type to comment on blogs. Unfortunately the judge doesn’t seem to have told Sam the truth about her private sanction so he’s left denying something that I can prove to be true.

I also learned that the judge retaliated against one of her court staff for telling the truth to the Commission for Judicial Conduct about the incident for which she was sanctioned — which incident, I was reminded, was the judge’s retaliation for my client not kowtowing to her rudeness in the first place.

So: Judge is rude to lawyer. Lawyer stands up for herself. Judge retaliates against lawyer. Mark stands up for lawyer. Judge retaliates against Mark. Court staff stands up for truth. Judge retaliates against court staff. Classy!

Maybe the judge has a friend who can talk to her about the First Rule of Holes.


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2016.010: Brown & Musslewhite

The Houston personal-injury firm of Brown and Musslewhite was ripping off Houston criminal-defense badass JoAnne Musick’s blog posts. So she did what any self-respecting lawyer/writer would do in that situation: she gave the firm a polite telephone call to ask confidentially that they remove the offending comment—

Just kidding. JoAnne did what any self-respecting lawyer/writer would do in that situation: she called Brown & Musslewhite out publicly so that from now until the crack of internet doom there will be a record of their dishonest unethical ways:

I would never hire a lawyer engaging in such practice. It’s unethical and just plain wrong. Color me offended and sad that they have chosen to use my name and my words to try and make themselves look better. Don’t try to make yourself look better; be better!

Amen, sister.

Why is writing the post better than making the call? Because — and I’m speaking from extensive experience here, having made the call time after time only to be left flat on my back like Charlie Brown — when you make that call you don’t get taken seriously. Instead you waste your time listening to excuses — “my marketer did it” — and rationalizations — “well, we gave you credit.” The extreme, by contrast, always seems to make an impression.

It makes an impression on its subject, and it makes an impression on others. If JoAnne had made the call, maybe Brown & Musslewhite would have stopped stealing content, but nobody else would have learned anything from the exercise. By posting about Brown & Musslewhite’s theft, JoAnne both discouraged others from stealing content and stopped Brown & Musslewhite from doing so—

Just kidding. Brown & Musslewhite took down JoAnne‘s content, but they still are republishing as though it is their own writing by people outside their firm: William K. Berenson, Randy Sorrels, Sam Adamo, Jr. (on HCCLAtv.com), and others.

HCCLA cares about people stealing its content, but what if none of the others care about Brown & Musslewhite stealing their content? We are not even personal-injury lawyers, for crying out loud. Shouldn’t JoAnne just mind her own business? Shouldn’t I?
Yes, absolutely, because this is profession for ladies and gentlemen, and ladies and gentlemen mind their own business—Just kidding.Lawyers minding their own business allow unethical lawyers to thrive, giving the bar a bad name. And while I joke that it’s a small fraction of the bar that gives the other 1% a bad reputation, the truth is that most lawyers are concerned with practicing ethically themselves. They would not deserve the bad name that the minority give them, except for one thing: They mind their own business. Like the majority of bad cops whose only offense is following the blue code, lawyers who don’t speak out against unethical lawyers are also unethical lawyers.
Writing is thinking. Publishing someone else’s work as though it is your own is a lie. Publishing the work of a lawyer outside your firm as though it is your firm’s is fraud: Potential clients will see it, will naturally believe it is characteristic of the firm’s thinking, and will make their decision based on what they believe is a sample of the firm’s thinking. If you think lawyers should mind their own business when they see lawyers defrauding potential clients, you are part of the problem.

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2016.009 Three Good Deeds

Speaking of kindnesses…

She was never my favorite judge. She was fair in trial, which is more than I can say for most of our local bench, but she was irascible in the runup to trial; it didn’t seem personal, but she was not “patient, dignified and courteous,” as required by the Texas Canons of Judicial Conduct. Still, when the Harris County district court judge tragically lost her grown son, I sent her my condolences because it was the right thing to do. She hugged me in the hallway and thanked me the next time she saw me. We were cool for a while. She treated me professionally, and not with the usual rudeness.

When the judge ordered one of my colleagues into custody for doing her job I stood up for my colleague. When she filed a grievance against the judge, I wrote an affidavit describing what I had observed. Because it was the right thing to do. The judge received a private sanction, (a big deal coming from the usually toothless Commission for Judicial Conduct, which usually disciplines judges by requiring them to buy the next round): A judge who has once been privately sanctioned doesn’t want to be grieved again.

When another colleague died, I took over one of his cases in the judge’s court. It was, again, the right thing to do. Last week I had a sweet deal worked out for that client. I realized as I was going over the plea papers with him that we hadn’t checked with an immigration lawyer to make sure that the sweet deal was really sweet. I asked the judge for two more days before doing the plea. Giving me two days would have cost her nothing and benefited me no farther than keeping me from committing malpractice. Everybody knew I was going to get my two days, but the judge was rude to me. I had “just asked her for another day yesterday” (not true) and “was losing credibility.” That a new personal edge to the old failure to be patient, dignified, and courteous.

I explained that I hadn’t crossed this particular T because of the irregular way the case had come to me — as a mitzvah to a fallen comrade. I hadn’t done my usual intake.

The judge said, “well, no good deed goes unpunished.”

Okay, judge. Okay.

On reflection, I wonder which of these three good deeds the judge was talking about. I doubt that it was the first, and maybe it was the third, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was the second — my representation of the lawyer she had unlawfully jailed.

Was the judge butthurt by my providing a factual account of that incident to the Commission on Judicial Conduct? Is she bent on punishing me? I would like to know. Not so that I can avoid the same sort of good deed in the future but so that I can it more. I’ve got a defiant streak, and if you try to punish me for doing the right thing, I’ll look for more opportunities to do the right thing the same way.

And opportunities abound. Remember: Patient, dignified and courteous.

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2016.008: The Texas Criminal Subpoena

Suppose that you are a civil lawyer representing a business or government entity in Texas, and your client is served with a subpoena in a criminal case. The subpoena is returnable “instanter,” and asks that your client produce certain documents along with a business-records affidavit.

What do you do?If you are Shannon Kackley of Austin’s Denton Navarro et al., you look up the Texas criminal subpoena statutes, notice that a subpoena must require the witness’s appearance “before a court” “at a specified term of the court or on a specified day” (and not instanter), and send the defense lawyer this email:

Mr. Bennet,

This Firm and I represent the City of Bay City, Texas and the Bay City Police Department.

We have been informed that you have recently provided a copy of the attached document to the Bay City Police Department. We have reviewed the purported subpoena and determined that it is invalid and unenforceable.

If you wish to obtain documents from the Bay City Police Department, please properly serve it with a valid subpoena duces tecum under Article 24 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Why is that the wrong call? Because, while you may not realize it, I have done your client a kindness by allowing it to produce the records along with an affidavit instead of—as the statute clearly allows me to require—appearing before the court to testify on a specified day. Not accepting this kindness, and refusing to comply with the subpoena because it doesn’t strictly track the statute, is maybe not in your client’s best interest.

Now, you don’t realize this because, like a teenager who has invented sex, you are so impressed with yourself for finding What the Dumb Old Criminal-Defense Lawyer Did Wrong. So when you get the next email, you don’t know what’s coming next:

I don’t know why you’d want to make things difficult for me, but okay. Will you accept the subpoena on behalf of your client?

If you had bothered to consult with a criminal-defense lawyer, she would have told you that I had offered your client a kindness, and you could have avoided making the wrong call. But you don’t. Instead you email back:

I can’t. My boss won’t allow us to accept service. …

It probably would have behooved you to go and talk to your boss about accepting service, but nope. Fine, I’ll serve your client with bells on.

There’s a certain loser logic in all of this so far—21-year civil lawyer who is still an associate and doesn’t even have discretion to accept a subpoena on behalf of a client fails to recognize the gift that his client has been offered.

Here, though, is where it gets inexplicable:

… But when you serve the PD with a valid subpoena, please attach the business record affidavit that you want completed. It makes it easier for the PD and ensures the correct document is executed.

After I’ve pointed out that you are making things difficult for me, why on Earth would I want to make things easier for your client? Your client has done nothing but try to make things difficult for me. Why are you still an associate? Big mystery. Could it be because you are a poster child for poor legal judgment?

Maybe the subpoena is unenforceable. We’re not going to find out because I’m not going to request an attachment. Instead I’m going to serve your client with another subpoena, as you requested. And the subpoena will strictly comply with the statute, as you requested.

That statute allows a subpoena to “direct that the witness bring [something] and produce it in court,” but does not provide for documents to be produced otherwise, as with a business-records affidavit. So I won’t bother offering your client that out.

The statute also requires that the witness summoned to court remain there “on [every] day subsequent thereto and before the final disposition or continuance of the particular case in which he is a witness.”

So if you’re Shannon Kackley you’ve just helped your client avoid producing documents with a business records affidavit, but signed your client’s custodian of record up to come to court and  stay there (on your client’s dime) perhaps for the duration of the trial.

As I wrote to Kackley in my response:

Well done, counselor.

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2016.007: Why Online Impersonation Matters

This week a district court (felony) judge in Waco held Section 33.07 of the Texas Penal Code unconstitutional:

Sec. 33.07. ONLINE IMPERSONATION. (a) A person commits an offense if the person, without obtaining the other person’s consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten any person, uses the name or persona of another person to:

(1) create a web page on a commercial social networking site or other Internet website; or

(2) post or send one or more messages on or through a commercial social networking site or other Internet website, other than on or through an electronic mail program or message board program.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person sends an electronic mail, instant message, text message, or similar communication that references a name, domain address, phone number, or other item of identifying information belonging to any person:

(1) without obtaining the other person’s consent;

(2) with the intent to cause a recipient of the communication to reasonably believe that the other person authorized or transmitted the communication; and

(3) with the intent to harm or defraud any person.

(c) An offense under Subsection (a) is a felony of the third degree. An offense under Subsection (b) is a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a felony of the third degree if the actor commits the offense with the intent to solicit a response by emergency personnel.

(d) If conduct that constitutes an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under any other law, the actor may be prosecuted under this section, the other law, or both.

(e) It is a defense to prosecution under this section that the actor is any of the following entities or that the actor’s conduct consisted solely of action taken as an employee of any of the following entities:

(1) a commercial social networking site;

(2) an Internet service provider;

(3) an interactive computer service, as defined by 47 U.S.C. Section 230;

(4) a telecommunications provider, as defined by Section 51.002, Utilities Code; or

(5) a video service provider or cable service provider, as defined by Section 66.002, Utilities Code.

(f) In this section:

(1) “Commercial social networking site” means any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users through direct or real-time communication with other users or the creation of web pages or profiles available to the public or to other users. The term does not include an electronic mail program or a message board program.

(2) “Identifying information” has the meaning assigned by Section 32.51.

At the moment the judge was signing the order (PDF—read it; p2¶1 is #Texas), I was arguing the unconstitutionality of Section 33.07 before the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston. In that case, too, the trial court had held the statute unconstitutional, so the state was appealing and I represented the appellee.

“Why,” you might ask, “should I care whether it’s a felony to use someone’s name without his consent online to harm him?”

Excellent question.

The State’s argument is that the statute forbids impersonation. But “using the name” of another is not impersonating him. When I speak or write your name, I use your name. And “harm” is unlimited in scope—any disadvantage. So if I write your name online without your consent with the intent of harming you by embarrassing you, or offending you, or hurting your feelings, or depriving you of votes in the next election, I have committed a felony.

Blog post questioning Katheryn Harris’s journalistic ethics? Felony.

Campaign website criticizing an opponent? Felony.

Newspaper article revealing a public figure’s dishonesty? Felony.

Virtually everything on the internet is  covered by

(1) create a web page on a commercial social networking site or other Internet website; or

(2) post or send one or more messages on or through a commercial social networking site or other Internet website, other than on or through an electronic mail program or message board program.

Virtually all critical speech is “with the intent to harm.”

So Section 33.07 forbids virtually all online criticism. Texas claims venue and jurisdiction over people all over the world. And that is why you should care.

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