August 8, 2008
Don't Mess with Librarian Bloggers
A Magistrate Judge recently issued an opinion harshly condemning an lawyer for his subpoena described by the court as "breathtakingly broad." The discovery requested all documents pertaining to the setup, financing, running, research, maintaining a website from an non-party to a pending case, "including communications with representatives of the federal government, the pharmaceutical industry, advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations, political action groups, profit or non-profit entities, journals, editorial boards, scientific boards, academic boards, medical licensing boards, any 'religious groups (Muslim or otherwise), or individuals with religious affiliations,' and any other 'concerned individuals.'"
The subpoena itself [redacted version] was clearly nothing more than a fishing expedition designed to intimidate Kathleen Seidel, a librarian who publishes articles she and others have written on the controversy about whether mercury has or has not created an autism epidemic on her website and blog.
The attorney, one Clifford Shoemaker, Esq., tried to justify the subpoena by alleging that the librarian was not
"a mere mother of an autistic child and housewife,” but a co-conspirator under 42 U.S.C. §1985 with her husband or “the defendant (Bayer) or by some organization dedicated to harassing this plaintiff (Ms. Sykes) and her witness ...” Shoemaker’s claim that Ms. Seidel was the “leader of a conspiracy to obstruct justice ...” is unsupported by any facts. It is clear that she has openly and extensively exercised her First Amendment right to speak out on the issue. Shoemaker certainly has the right to disagree with her, but he has no right to misuse the process to abuse her.
Shoemaker has not offered a shred of evidence to support his speculations. He has, he says, had his suspicions aroused because she has so much information. Clearly he is unfamiliar with the extent of the information which a highly-competent librarian like Ms. Seidel can, and did, accumulate. If Shoemaker wanted to know if Ms. Seidel was in part supported by or provided information by Bayer, he could have inquired of Bayer or limited the Seidel subpoena to that information. Instead he issued the subpoena calling for production of documents and a deposition on the day before he stipulated to dismiss the underlying suit with prejudice. His failure to withdraw the subpoena when he clearly knew that suit was over is telling about his motives. His efforts to vilify and demean Ms. Seidel are unwarranted and unseemly....
Quoting from the opinion (emphasis added).
Sanctions? You bet. For abusing the legal process, wasting judicial resources, and unnecessarily wasting the time and expense of the purported deponent, Shoemaker was ordered to attend a continuing legal education program on ethics and on the discovery rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. No word on whether Kathleen Seidel has offered to give Shoemaker instruction on information literacy but she has taught him one lesson, don't mess with librarians who blog. [JH]
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