Court Lifts Lawless Gag Order On Dan Valenti of Planet Valenti
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how a Central Berkshire Court Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega had issued a patently unconstitutional gag order forbidding Dan Valenti of Planet Valenti from blogging about Meredith Nilan, the daughter of a high official in the very court in which Judge Sanabria-Vega sits. Judge Sanabria-Vega also ordered Mr. Valenti to take down all of his posts about Ms. Nilan.
Today, after a six-hour hearing, Judge Mark Mason of the same court lifted the order. From the limited coverage, it sounds as if Nilan continued to suggest that she is entitled to prior restraint of defamation, or even of speech critical of her:
Nilan called Valenti's blogs about her "constant," "full of lies," and sensationalistic.
Whether or not that's true, it does not justify a gag order on Valenti or an order requiring him to take down what he has written before. Hans Bader at OpenMarket.org wrote an excellent legal analysis of the problems with the gag order; it's well worth reading.
Judge Mason did let fly with a somewhat gratuitous warning:
On Monday, Mason said Valenti's posts didn't rise to the level of "fighting words" or "true threats" against Nilan, but warned the blogger, "You're walking a very, very fine line."
Now, I wasn't in the courtroom. But I've read Valenti's posts from Google Cache, and I haven't seen anything anywhere close to any principled constitutional line I'm familiar with — unless, perhaps, it's the line of "speech that may lead a court to ignore constitutional rights and rule from cronyism or visceral annoyance." On the other hand, as I have said before, it's usually a mistake to read too much into judicial bloviation.
Dan Valenti has posted his initial (understandably exhausted) account tonight. I look forward to more details. Congratulations to him, and thanks and admiration to his attorneys Rinaldo Del Gallo and the ACLU’s Bill Newman.
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