Protecting The Free Speech of Censors: The Crystal Cox Saga

Law

This is how the rule of law works: we extend rights to the very people who would deny us those rights if they had the chance.

Ariel Castro imprisoned young women in his basement without anything resembling due process, but he got a lawyer and his days in court until he thoughtfully offed himself. We protected the Nazis' right to march at Skokie, and say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, dude, but it doesn't protect the free speech or assembly rights of others. We protect the right of Fred Phelps' family to protest at funerals even though the America of Phelps' dreams is a theocratic hellhole.

So it shouldn't be any surprise that we protect the free speech rights of the disturbed and vengeful blogger Crystal Cox, even though she abuses the legal system in an effort to censor and retaliate against people for criticizing her.

That's how we roll.

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Crystal Cox's First Amendment rights, and in doing so protected yours, and mine, in important ways. This post is about that decision, and about what Crystal Cox was doing to undercut the First Amendment while the Ninth Circuit was thinking about it. As you will see below, I am one of the people Cox has tried to silence with frivolous litigation even as courts were protecting her right to speak.

Chapter One: The Ninth Circuit Protects Crystal Cox, And In Doing So Protects The Speech of All Citizens

  • Cox Attacks Kevin Padrick and Obsidian Finance Group

Back in 2008, a bankruptcy court appointed Kevin Padrick as the trustee of a company called Summit Accommodators, Inc., which was seeking bankruptcy protection as it reorganized. Padrick, an expert on distressed businesses at a financial services firm called Obsidian Finance Group, LLC, was well qualified for the job. No court, and no sane person, has ever found that he did it wrong.

To his great misfortune, Cox somehow heard about him and decided that he was a wrongdoer.

This is how the Ninth Circuit describes what happened next:

After Padrick’s appointment, Crystal Cox published blog posts on several websites that she created, accusing Padrick
and Obsidian of fraud, corruption, money-laundering, and other illegal activities in connection with the Summit bankruptcy. Cox apparently has a history of making similar allegations and seeking payoffs in exchange for retraction. See David Carr, When Truth Survives Free Speech, N.Y. Times, Dec. 11, 2011, at B1. Padrick and Obsidian sent Cox a cease-and-desist letter, but she continued posting allegations.

More on that extortion allegation soon.

Cox attacked Padrick and Obsidian Finance with a flurry of posts on sites like "obsidianfinancesucks.com," where she made extravagant and mostly incoherent accusations of wrongdoing without factual support.

So Padrick and Obsidian Finance sued her.

  • Cox Loses In The Trial Court, Which Gets It Wrong

Padrick sued in United States District Court in Oregon. Cox acted like an archetypical disturbed pro se litigant throughout, filing a bizarre cross-complaint against not only Padrick and Obsidian Finance and their lawyers but also everyone else who had annoyed her recently. United States District Judge Marco Hernandez eventually made two crucial rulings. One was right, and one was wrong.

First, Judge Hernandez found that many of Cox's posts were statements of opinion, not statements of fact, and therefore could not be defamation. Those posts "used figurative and hyperbolic language and could not be proved true or false." As I frequently discuss here, only provably false statements of fact can be defamatory. Hyperbole and mere rhetoric, or statements of opinion that can't be interpreted as implying provably false facts, cannot. Judge Hernandez' first decision was right.

Second, Judge Hernandez wrongly limited Cox's defenses. Judge Hernandez found that one of Cox's posts could be taken as implying a provably false statement of fact: on one of her attack sites, bankruptcycorruption.com, she claimed that Padrick failed in his duty as trustee to pay taxes on substantial amount of money owed by Summit. Judge Hernandez let that claim go to the jury, and the jury found that the statement was false and harmful, and awarded $1.5 million to Padrick and $1 million to Obsidian Finance. But Judge Hernandez incorrectly instructed the jury on the law, so they didn't know what standard should govern their decision. In short, Judge Hernandez didn't require Padrick and Obsidian Finance to prove, or the jury to find, that Cox got it wrong deliberately, or recklessly, or even negligently. To the contrary, he instructed the jury like this: "Defendant’s knowledge of whether the statements at issue were true or false and defendant’s intent or purpose in publishing those statements are not elements of the claim and are not relevant to the determination of liability.” That decision was wrong.

That decision flew in the face of Supreme Court precedent. First, in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court held fifty years ago that when someone makes a false statement about a public official's official conduct, the official can't prove defamation without proving actual malice — that is, without proving that the defendant acted knowing that the statement was false or reckless disregard as to its truth. Moreover, even private figures can't prove defamation merely by showing that a statement made about them was false. In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Supreme Court held that even a private figure must prove, at least, that a false fact was uttered negligently to prevail on a defamation claim. In other words, defamation liability may not be imposed at all without some showing of fault.1

So why did Judge Hernandez decide that way? He issued an order on the issue during the trial ruling that the Sullivan "actual malice" standard did not apply because Padrick and Obsidian Finance were not public figures or public officials. That's not the troubling part. Judge Hernandez also found that the plaintiffs need not even prove negligence under the Gertz standard, because Cox could not show that she was "media" or a professional journalist. That was the basis of his decision that Padrick and Obsidian Finance could prevail merely by showing that Cox's post was wrong and harmful, and that they need not show any level of fault. The finding was invited by Cox — she argued that Gertz ought to apply because she should be considered "media," when in fact Gertz should apply to everybody. This ruling was widely reported in the media as a federal judge finding that a blogger is not a journalist, which is a bit of an oversimplification.

After trial — perhaps in part because of widespread media coverage, and perhaps in part because Cox was by then competently represented instead of representing herself — Judge Hernandez modified his position in the course of denying Cox's motion for a new trial, stating more explicitly that the Gertz standard only applies to "media" defendants, and that a private plaintiff need not necessarily prove that a private defendant acted negligently in making a false statement.

That was wrong.

  • The Ninth Circuit Gets It Right and Eliminates the False Distinction Between "Media" and Citizens

The estimable Eugene Volokh represented Crystal Cox pro bono on appeal, and achieved a result that protected not just Cox, but all of us. The Ninth Circuit opinion is here. Notably, on appeal, Cox did not dispute that her accusation against Padrick and Obsidian Finance was false and harmful.

The Ninth Circuit did one crucial thing and one fairly important thing.

The crucial thing was rejecting the false distinction between "media" defendants and citizen defendants. The Ninth Circuit held that the Sullivan and Gertz standards apply whether the defendant is "media" or a "professional journalist" or not. If someone sues you for what you write or say about them, they will have to prove some level of fault — whether it's negligence (if the plaintiff is a private figure) or actual malice (if the plaintiff is a public figure or official, or the speech is on a matter of public concern). Quoth the Ninth Circuit:

The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: “With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media . . . the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.” Citizens United, 558 U.S. at 352. In defamation cases, the public-figure status of a plaintiff and the public importance of the statement at issue—not the identity of the speaker—provide the First Amendment touchstones.

The Ninth Circuit noted that there might be one remaining area where Gertz does not apply and a defamation plaintiff does not need to prove even negligence — if the plaintiff is a private figure and the speech is not on a matter of public concern. But the court found it need not decide that legal question, because Cox's posts were on issues of public concern — they were about allegations of a crime against a trustee in a bankruptcy proceeding. The court noted that "[p]ublic allegations that someone is involved in crime generally are speech on a matter of public concern" and "even consumer complaints of non-criminal conduct by a business can constitute matters of public concern." That means that the limitations on Gertz — if they exist2 — are narrow. The court rejected, however, Cox's argument that Padrick and Obsidian Finance should be treated as public figures or public officials, triggering the Sullivan actual malice standard, just because Padrick was appointed by a court.

The Ninth Circuit's fairly important achievement was firmly supporting the distinction between statements of fact (which may be defamatory) and statements of opinion or hyperbole (which may not). Rejecting Padrick's cross-appeal, they agreed with Judge Hernandez that Cox's other posts could not be taken as statements of provable fact and therefore could not be defamatory. The Ninth Circuit is polite and professional and would never put it this way, but I will: the court articulated the Batshit-Crazy Rule.3

Cox's posts attacking people — Padrick, attorneys who have opposed her, bloggers and journalists who have angered her, me — come off as batshit-crazy. They make flamboyant and bizarre accusations that normal people would not credit.4 They do so on vividly-named sites, and employ an entire Souplantation's worth of word-salad. They recursively cite each other, or Cox's filings, rather than citing facts or evidence. They carry all the hallmarks of pervasive mental illness — but also, and more importantly for First Amendment purposes, hyperbole, bluster, and opinion.

The Ninth Circuit put this in more genteel fashion. The court explained it looks to three questions in determining whether a statement is fact or opinion — “(1) whether the general tenor of the entire work negates the impression that the defendant was asserting an objective fact, (2) whether the defendant used figurative or hyperbolic language that negates that impression, and (3) whether the statement in question is susceptible of being proved true or false." Applying those factors, the Ninth Circuit noted that Cox's posts at issue were full of hyperbole and extreme language, were posted on sites with names like obsidianfinancesucks.com that predispose readers to view them with skepticism as one-sided, contain run-on stream-of-consciousness sentences that seem more like diary entries about feelings than statements of fact, and contain bizarre flights of fancy like accusations that Padrick hired a hit man to kill Cox (a common delusional theme in Cox's writings). In short, "the district court correctly found that, in the context of a non-professional website containing consistently hyperbolic language, Cox’s blog posts are 'not sufficiently factual to be proved true or false.'" The Ninth Circuit therefore rejected Padrick's cross-appeal.

The Ninth Circuit's opinion protecting Cox's free speech rights also protects your rights. The ruling means that if someone sues you for something you write or say, your First Amendment protections will not turn on whether a judge views you as a "professional journalist." Rather, the same legal protections that have traditionally been applied to the New York Times will apply to you. That is a substantial comfort, particularly because many jurists are not familiar with things like blogs. The ruling also robustly protects your right to express how you feel, using vivid language, by maintaining that only provable statements of fact are defamatory, and hyperbole and rhetoric are not.

So: the Ninth Circuit's opinion was a substantial victory for free speech. What was Cox doing whilst the Ninth Circuit was mulling it over?

She was working diligently — some would say obsessively — to attack and undermine the free speech of others, as one would expect of a narcissistic hypocrite.

Chapter Two: Crystal Cox Gets Angry

Before I explain what Crystal Cox did in 2013 to undermine the free speech rights of others, I have to explain why she got angry enough to do it.

In short: Crystal Cox is mad because people called out her conduct and fought back.

  • I'm Not An Extortionist, I Just Tell People I Will Stop Bad-Mouthing Them If They Pay Me Money

Crystal Cox is very angry that people call her an extortionist. Why would people say such a thing?

Well, it's because of emails like this:

That's an email from Crystal Cox to the lawyer for Mr. Padrick and Obsidian Finance, after she had put up many websites accusing them of criminal offenses, offering to "protect their reputation" in exchange for $2,500 per month. Doubtless that influenced the Ninth Circuit to say this about Crystal Cox in their opinion:

Cox apparently has a history of making similar allegations and seeking payoffs in exchange for retraction.

One instance of interstate extortion isn't exactly a history, of course. But other people have complained of similar tactics by Cox. For instance, she sought the pro bono assistance of First Amendment badass Marc Randazza. When Randazza didn't respond quite the way she wanted, she sent him this:

In other words, after approaching him about a case in which she had been sued for creating defamatory blogs about people, she registered a URL in Randazza's name, told him she needed to make money, and asked if he knew anyone who needed a search engine reputation manager.

Nor is Randazza the only one. The Montana Board of Realty Regulation recently recommended that Cox's real estate license be suspended. The Board explained that Cox became irate when a potential customer backed away from her, and sought to destroy his reputation online with confidential information he had provided to her as a potential broker:

The licensee became enraged that Cain had decided not to work with her. As a result of her anger, soon after Cain severed their business relationship, the licensee began blogging about Cain and contacting Cain through both e-mail and telephone. The licensee’s blogs exposed many of Cain’s real estate purchase plans for his company, information which the licensee had obtained through her discussions with Cain when Cain was having her line up properties in Montana.

And then — in an echo of her accusations against others of hiring hit men — she made him an offer:

On her February 17, 2011 blog on the www.martincain.com website, the licensee posited “Montana Man Admits to Working With Martin Cain to Set Me Up, Harm me, Kill me.” Exhibit 1, February 17, 2011 blog. Afterwards, the licensee deleted the February 17, 2011 blog and then sent an e-mail to Cain telling him that he could purchase the www.martincain.com website and domain name for $550,000.00.

Cox is incensed that people call this extortion. One of her constant refrains is that she's never been charged criminally with extortion, and therefore it's defamation, a hate crime, a criminal conspiracy, a civil rights violation, and a general abuse of her rights to offer the opinion based on these facts that she committed extortion. Of course, Cox's whole schtick is creating web sites accusing other people of a bizarre array of crimes, even though they've never been charged with any such crimes. The hypocritical contradiction is typical of an extreme narcissist.

  • I'm An Investigative Journalist, But Other Bloggers Are Just Mean

Cox is also angry because, when some news sources suggested that she might be a free-speech hero, bloggers fought back and showed her for what she is.

For instance, I wrote about how Crystal Cox registered domains in the name of Marc Randazza's wife and young daughter in retaliation for Marc's dispute with her:

Many other lawbloggers — like Jordan Rushie and Scott Greenfield and Mark Bennett and Eric Turkewtiz — also pointed out her conduct and explained that, whatever the merits of her case, she is a villain, not a hero. Even mainstream journalists — like David Carr at the New York Times and Kashmir Hill at Forbes — put her First Amendment claims in the context of her deranged and extortionate behavior.

As a result, a Google search for Crystal Cox's name quickly yielded stories about her bad behavior. Crystal Cox didn't like that. in her mind, only she is allowed to write negative things to impact someone's search engine results.

  • Marc Randazza Fights Back, Kicks Ass

Marc Randazza — who is a friend and occasional client, in addition to being a First Amendment badass — is not one to take abuse lying down.

So when Cox registered a bunch of domains in his name (like marcrandazza.com and marcjohnrandazza.com) in order to bad-mouth him and sell advertisements, he fought back. The results have been very upsetting to Cox.

First, Randazza filed an action with the World Intellectual Property Organization, which resolves disputes over domain names. Marc chose wisely by proceeding narrowly — he didn't seek to capture domains that were on their face critical or satirical, like marcrandazzasucks.com. Instead, he sought only to capture those domains that used his name in a way that caused confusion, on the theory that Cox registered those domains in bad faith to cause confusion and make ad revenue. Marc knew to narrow his claim like that because he's successfully defended satirical bloggers who use their targets' names in non-confusing and clearly satirical ways, like glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com. WIPO agreed, and awarded Marc several domain names that used his name in a confusing and non-satirical manner, and in the process noted that Cox registered the domains fraudulently to commit extortion:

In any event, for purposes of the Policy the Panel finds the Respondent’s intention, as reflected by the record, was never to solely provide, through her websites, speech critical of the Complainant. Rather, her objective in both registering and using the disputed names was apparently to engage in a rather sinister and tenacious scheme to extort money from the Complainant. Specifically, the Respondent first posted negative and false commentary on her websites that was intentionally calculated to injure the Complainant’s on-line reputation and disrupt the Complainant’s business conducted through his law firm. Thereafter, the Respondent used those sites in a manner that apparently optimized their ranking on the Google search engine in order to increase their visibility and prominence on search results yielded through a Google search of the Complainant, thus likely exacerbating the injury caused to the Complainant. Once all this occurred, the Respondent then offered her reputational management services to the Complainant through which, for a considerable fee, she would remediate the Complainant’s on-line reputation by eliminating all the negative and false commentary of her own making and presumably also ceasing her use of the disputed domain names. Basically, for a price, she would undo the injury to the Complainant for which she was responsible for having created in the first place. This egregious conduct clearly constitutes bad faith under the Policy.

But Randazza wasn't done. He sued Cox in United States District Court in the District of Nevada. In his complaint, Randazza explicitly disclaimed any intent to sue Cox for theories like defamation or infliction of emotional distress. Instead, he accused Cox of registering domains in his name in order to make money of it, in violation of his rights, and as a pattern of extortion. He noted, for instance, one of Cox's posts titled "Marc Randazza Domain Name for Sale.. Here Kitty Kitty…" Based on that, Randazza articulated causes of action under the federal cyberpiracy and cybersquatting statutes, as well as under state right to publicity statutes. The gravamen of his claim — and what distinguishes it from most cases of satirical websites — is that Randazza alleged that Cox acted to extort money from him or make money through selling the domains or collecting other revenue.

Randazza's suit has been successful. United States District Judge Gloria Navarro first issued a temporary restraining order against Cox locking the domains to prevent their transfer, and making this finding:

In this case, Defendants have embarked on a campaign of cyber-extortion. Specifically, Cox sent an e-mail to Plaintiff Randazza that informed him that she had purchased and, in that same email, informed him of her “need to make money.” (Pls.’ Mot. for TRO, Ex. 8, ECF No. 2-10.)

Judge Navarro later issued a preliminary injunction transferring the domains to Randazza. Judge Navarro repeated her finding that Cox was engaged in extortion:

Here, Defendants’ actions leading up to the filing of the Complaint, as well as Defendants’ past behavior, as represented in Plaintiffs’ reply briefing, clearly seems to indicate cyber-extortion. (See Pls.’ Reply in Support of Preliminary Injunction, ECF No. 28, Ex. 1). Specifically, Defendant Cox’s request for $5 million in exchange for and her offering of “reputation management services” indicate her intent to profit from the registration of Plaintiffs’ personal names as Domain Names. Defendant’s post hoc attempt to explain this as a “joke” is not credible. Given the fact that the Defendant has been shown to have engaged in a pattern of cybersquatting and cyber-extortion, this Court finds that she was more likely than not, attempting to sell this domain name to the plaintiff, or to solicit a price for the domain name in excess of herout of pocket expenses related to the domain name.

As you will see below, as a result of these rulings Cox repeatedly and frivolously sued Judge Navarro.

  • I'm Mad On Behalf Of My New Friend. Or Am I?

Finally, Cox professes to be outraged on behalf of a new friend.

The friend is a man named Elliot Bernstein. For many years, Bernstein has been asserting that he invented technology called iViewit, and that all of the companies using streaming video have stolen and infringed his rights to that technology in a vast conspiracy. I shall refrain from characterizing Bernstein and his litigation history. Let me, instead, quote from the opinion of a United States District Judge in New York dismissing one of Bernstein's cases:

This action presents a dramatic story of intrigue, car bombing, conspiracy, video technology, and murder. In short, plaintiffs allege that hundreds of defendants engaged in a massive conspiracy to violate their civil rights and, in the process, contributed to the Enron bankruptcy and the presidency of George W. Bush. In plaintiffs' words:

Plaintiffs depict a conspiratorial pattern of fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation, that runs so wide and so deep, that it tears at the very fabric, and becomes the litmus test, of what has come to be known as free commerce through inventors' rights and due process in this country, and in that the circumstances involve inventors' rights tears at the very fabric of the Democracy protected under the Constitution of the United States.

As that Court suggests, Bernstein suggests that the violation of his intellectual property rights are intertwined with many of the most momentous events of the last few decades. For instance:

In fact, plaintiffs suggests that the Iviewit case may have distracted Justice Labarga from his work on Bush v. Gore, leading possibly to its result.

In his various motions seeking to reverse his litigation fortunes, Bernstein brags of seeking state and federal criminal charges against a large swath of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the judges of which are apparently complicit in the conspiracy.

And so on. You may, with caution, visit Bernstein's site and draw further conclusions.

Cox transferred many of her domains to Bernstein, perhaps to protect them from judgment creditor claims by Padrick and Obsidian Finance, and perhaps to protect them from Randazza. She also now asserts that all of the bad things said about her are part of a conspiracy to prevent her from revealing the secrets she knows about the vast conspiracy Bernstein claims in his lawsuits. No. Really.

So. Where did all of this anger lead Crystal Cox?

To court. More accurately, to a whole bunch of courts.

Chapter Three: Crystal Cox Sues Everybody

In 2013, Crystal Cox embarked on a series of federal lawsuits in numerous states, all combining her grievances from the Padrick and Obsidian Finance litigation, her grievances against the journalists and bloggers who wrote unflattering things about her, her grievances against United States District Judge Gloria Navarro and the WIPO for ruling against her in Randazza's actions, some poorly expressed grievances against people who annoyed her when she lived in Montana, and the grievances of her new friend, Elliot Bernstein. I was a defendant in one of those actions, because I wrote about Cox, and therefore was classified as a conspirator.

Cox sued in federal courts in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. I have collected all of her complaints, and the orders dismissing them, in the appendix to this post.5

Cox's defendant list varied a bit from suit to suit6, but generally it included Judge Gloria Navarro (for ruling against her), Kevin Padrick and Obsidian Finance and their lawyers, the New York Times and journalist David Carr and Forbes and journalist Kashmir Hill (for criticizing her), numerous lawbloggers who criticized her (including me) and their law firms, New York Public Radio, the World Intellectual Property Organization and several of its officials, megafirms Proskauer Rose and Greenberg Traurig (who defended against Bernstein's litigation), the Multnomah County Sheriff Office and the Sheriff and one of his deputies, the University of Montana, Warner Bros. (which, as near as I can tell, is alleged to use streaming technology stolen from Bernstein), Godaddy (for allowing courts to tell it to move domains away from her), employees of Intel and Apple (again, apparently premised on the Bernstein claims), and the Free Speech Coalition (because fuck you, apparently).

Like the defendant list, Cox's list of causes of action also varied. However, her complaints include both criminal claims (which, of course, Cox cannot lawfully bring) and civil claims, and include things like criminal and civil conspiracy, conspiracy to violate civil rights, deprivation of civil rights under color of law, "all state and federal laws applying to defamation," "ALL federal and state harassment laws applicable," "all anti-discrimination laws," the Sherman Antitrust Act, violation of the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human rights, violation of the International Covenant on Civil Rights and Political Rights, the Hate Crimes Act, abuse of process, tortious interference with contract and prospective business advantage, racketeering and RICO, malpractice, "shield laws," witness tampering, False Claims Act, Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, "all federal and state whistle blower [sic] retaliation laws," and others.

It is extremely difficult to figure out what Cox says any particular person did. As near as I can figure, Cox — whose avocation is accusing people of crimes on her blogs — is arguing that it is defamation, racketeering, hate crime, and retaliation to point out that her published emails are extortionate. She also seems to be arguing that all of the defendants, somehow, are part of the vast global conspiracy against Bernstein to steal his iViewit technology, and that she is a victim because she has crucial information about the conspiracy and people are writing mean things about her in order to suppress her crucial testimony. Or something. One thing is very clear: just as clearly as she thinks the First Amendment should protect her saying terrible (and entirely bogus) things about Kevin Padrick and Obsidian Finance, she thinks the law should prevent other people from saying negative things about her. Again: narcissistic hypocrite.

Notably, as far as I can tell, Cox never served a single defendant through lawful service. Nobody was ever required to respond. So how did the cases get dismissed? Well, rather than pay the filing fees — which, given the number of cases, would have been substantial — Cox pled poverty and asked the courts to waive the filing fees. Federal courts can do that — but the statute that allows them to do so also allows them to dismiss frivolous and abusive complaints. The courts faced with Cox's claims have done so.

Federal judges across the country have responded to Cox's claims with a mixture of bewilderment and scorn. They've called Cox's claims "fantastical and implausible." Another said "[p]laintiff’s complaint is 153 pages in length, is not presented in numbered paragraph form, and does not clearly state what acts of what defendants are alleged to give rise to her claims." Said another, "[a]t 153 pages, Plaintiff’s Complaint is sprawling and incomprehensible. In what can only be characterized as a barrage of allegations and accusations, the Court cannot discern to which parties the individual claims are directed and on what basis the claims are brought." In Florida the District Judge discussed the bizarre nature of Cox's claims:

The current claim is clearly baseless in light of the fact that the Complaint is comprised of conclusory allegations that are oft-times fantastic or delusional, and substantiated by no facts to support the practicality of the claims. For instance, Plaintiff states that Defendant Randazza and his co-conspirators are involved in prostitution rings, client shakedowns, controlling judges, strong arming or paying off media, and extreme retaliation against those who criticize Defendant Randazza. (D.E. l-2 at p. 94). Plaintiff factually substantiates none of these claims. Plaintiff also conclusively alleges without substantiation that Defendant Judge Gloria Navarro placed Plaintiff's life in danger. Ié. at p. 25.

In Massachusetts, in an very thorough order putting Cox's claim there in the context of her nationwide campaign, the court dryly noted that her complaint is "not entirely intelligible or organized."

Based on their power triggered by Cox's request to proceed without paying fees, the courts have all dismissed Cox's complaints. When they have given her leave to amend, she has either failed to do so or has filed amended complaints that are just as unintelligible as the original ones. In some cases Cox has ceased communicating with the court. Courts sending mail to the post office box she provides in her pleadings have had it returned as undeliverable, even though she continues to use that post office box in recent filings. (Refusing to acknowledge or accept undesirable court mailings is a common vexatious litigant tactic.) Similarly, Randazza notes that she's playing a similar game in his suit against her — she's commenting online about the content of filings and court orders even as she ignores and fails to respond to them.

Cox's federal complaints have gone nowhere. That is unlikely to change. But they have represented an effort to suppress and retaliate against free speech by vexatious harassment of her critics. Being sued — even by a deranged person — is stressful and unsettling. Even when your speech is clearly protected by the First Amendment, like the commentary about Cox has been, it's difficult not to be chilled by frivolous lawsuits.

Cox was uttering censorious demands out of one side of her mouth even as she asked the Ninth Circuit to protect her free speech out of the other side.

Conclusion

Ultimately this case shows the legal system working. A judge violated the rights of an extremely distasteful and justifiably despised litigant, and the Ninth Circuit applied the First Amendment correctly to someone who, herself, abuses it at every opportunity. A disturbed pro se litigant filed a flurry of abusive and frivolous suits, which were dismissed without any defendants even having to respond. I would feel that the system was working even better if an enterprising United States Attorney somewhere prosecuted Cox for interstate extortion, but we don't always get what we want. For now, it is satisfying to know this: Crystal Cox's appeal to the Ninth Circuit produced an important ruling that defends my rights and yours, and that ironically will make it easier to defeat her nonsensical, abusive, and censorious lawsuits if anyone is ever called upon to do so.

Appendix

District of Arizona Complaint
District of Arizona Amended Complaint
District of Arizona First Dismissal
District of Arizona Final Dismissal

Northern District of California Complaint
Northern District of California Dismissal

Southern District of Florida Complaint
Southern District of Florida Dismissal
Southern District of Florida Final Dismissal

Northern District of Illinois Complaint
Northern District of Illinois Minute Order Explaining Dismissal
Northern District of Illinois Final Judgment of Dismissal

District of Massachusetts Complaint
District of Massachusetts Dismissal Order
District of Massachusetts Final Dismissal

District of Nevada Complaint
District of Nevada Dismissal Order
District of Nevada Final Dismissal

District of New Jersey Complaint
District of New Jersey Dismissal Order
District of New Jersey Final Dismissal

Southern District of New York Complaint
Southern District of New York Order Transferring Case to Nevada7

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Complaint
Eastern District of Pennsylvania Dismissal order

Eastern District of Wisconsin Complaint
Eastern District of Wisconsin Dismissal Order

  1. The possible exception, as noted below, is speech about a purely private figure on an issue of purely private interest. But even that exception might not exist.  
  2. I think the better rule is that Gertz applies without regard to whether the speech is of "public interest." It's not clear to me how a false statement could be both "on a subject of purely private interest" and actually harmful to the reputation of the subject. Plus, a more robustly speech-protective rule protects everyone.  
  3. I am aware some people may take offense to that turn of phrase. I have written rather bluntly before about what it is like to suffer from major depression. I am sympathetic, generally, to social prejudice against mental illness. But I am unsympathetic about the sensibilities of people who use mental illness as an excuse or vector to abuse the persons and rights of others. Sorry.  
  4. For instance, for the record, I have not engaged in a conspiracy to murder adult entertainment performers.  
  5. Yes, having a post with footnotes is already ridiculous. Yes, an appendix transcends self-parody. I AM WHAT I AM.  
  6. I am only listing Cox's 2013 lawsuits against this group of defendants on this group of bizarre claims. Separately, Cox also sued a strange array of defendants in federal court in Montana, accusing them of being part of a vast conspiracy back in 2006 to conceal mold in a house. That suit was dismissed by the court. Cox also sued numerous realty (that's realty, not reality, obviously) organizations based on claims of conspiracy and antitrust violations. That claim was
    also dismissed by the court.  
  7. The court has not yet dismissed this action.  

Last 5 posts by Ken White

96 Comments

90 Comments

  1. Keith Lee  •  Jan 19, 2014 @4:41 pm

    TL;DR

  2. SarahW  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:05 pm

    Cox needs a permanent home in an institution, the kind that doesn't exist anymore. Narcissism is a feature of many forms of mental illness and not just limited to personality disorder. Once upon a time she might have been declared incompetent or put away. You'd think at least she could be barred from controlling websites as a kind of community diversion senetnce (for extortion) or filing pro-se lawsuits.

  3. Paul Beard  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:09 pm

    Errata on the the number $2,5000 per month should probably be fixed.

    Glad to see the law is working correctly

  4. AlphaCentauri  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:31 pm

    I AM WHAT I AM.

    And we want you to stay that way, enough to actually read the footnotes. :)

  5. L Nettles  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:37 pm

    Jonathan Lee Riches says: that girl is crazy.

  6. Adam Steinbaugh  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:40 pm
  7. Anton Sherwood  •  Jan 19, 2014 @5:40 pm

    Whether or not it would be insensitive to call Cox herself "batshit crazy", this kook sees nothing wrong with so describing her voluntary acts.

  8. OngChotwI  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:02 pm

    I sense a conspiracy.. I showed up at this place when you were writing about Charles Carreon (sp?) and now you've brought up yet another person that sounds batshit crazy with the initials C.C. Are you sure this isn't CC's wife suing under a nom de plume? P.S. My ISP thanks you for all the links.. I'll have gone over this plan's lousy caps by the time I make it through all of 'em. *snicker*

  9. Hannah  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:04 pm

    That was worth every single second reading. Not just for the warm-fuzzies conclusion, but for making everything else in my life seem totally normal when compared to someone that awesomely batshit crazy. Thank you, Ken, thank you.

  10. Reilly  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:12 pm

    Ken, small edit — "Judge Hernandez later issued a preliminary injunction transferring the domains to Randazza. Judge Hernandez repeated her finding that Cox was engaged in extortion:"

    I believe you meant Judge Navarro

  11. AlphaCentauri  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:15 pm

    This is still my favorite Cox filing:

    This is my second filing of this Motion to Relate Rakofsky v. The Internet."

    omg, that is hilarious. It must have stuck in her craw that someone else was considered more vexatious and batshit-crazy than she.

  12. Bruce  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:45 pm

    I'm going to be a concern troll here and ask:
    "What about people that get talked about by a crazy, or sued by a crazy?" Gertz, it seems to me, means that there's literally nothing they can do about it. They lose their reputation, thus losing commerce by means of Google being filled up with rants, and they also lose money by fighting off bogus lawsuits. There's court fees at least, even if lawyers defend them pro bono. So if they win, they still lose.
    I guess that's reality, I suppose. Very like having a crazy person living next door…

  13. Christopher Jorgensen  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:50 pm

    I tried to get her to sue me. I created a satire site and had an artist create cartoons of her blowing goat balloons and such. I wrote her physical letters and sent them to her PO Box. Ironically, she got my letters, so the PO Box was in good standing at some point. She responded to me in email thanking me for my support. She never sued (that I am aware of).

    I'd registered crystalcoxblows.com, crystalcoxsucks.com, and fuckcrystalcox.com and offered to exchange them for the Randazza sites. If she'd get out of the Randazza family business I would get out of the Cox family business. She never directly addressed my content again (that I remember) and I lost interest. It's no fun fighting someone that ignores your. For a while I would get "Cox Update" emails, but then they stopped.

    I let all of the domains other than crystalcoxblows.com expire (I think). I plan to let this one go too.

    People in my life pointed out that she was mentally ill and needed help, not internet mockery, which kind of took the fun out of trying to poke her.

    Anyway, the crazy goes all the way down and she reminds me too much of Shuler. It's a damn shame there isn't a way to get these people help.

  14. Adam B  •  Jan 19, 2014 @6:56 pm

    Fantastic piece. Re the "batshit-crazy rule," see also Dimeo v Tucker Max (E.D. Pa. 2006) at fn 14:

    As for the remaining two, under Pennsylvania law, a court must view allegedly defamatory statements "in context" to determine the "'effect the [writing] is fairly calculated to produce, the impression it would naturally engender, in the minds of the average persons among whom it is intended to circulate.'" Savitsky v. Shenandoah Valley Pub. Corp., 566 A.2d 901, 904 (Pa. Super. 1989) (citing Baker v. Lafayette College, 532 A.2d 399 (1987) and quoting Corabi v. Curtis Publishing Co., 273 A.2d 899, 907 (1971)). After viewing the tuckermax.com message boards, which are read by people using screen names like "Jerkoff," "Drunken DJ," and "footinmouth," the intended audience could not mistake the site for the New York Times. In short, it palpably is not serious.

  15. Jamie  •  Jan 19, 2014 @7:50 pm

    Fantastic article, Ken.

    I don't know how you go head to head with the crazies, write articles like this, and still hold down a job.

  16. Ivraatiems  •  Jan 19, 2014 @8:30 pm

    @Jamie

    Who says he does?

    @Ken

    On a scale of one to accordingly, how is Crystal Cox governing herself?

  17. Joe Pullen  •  Jan 19, 2014 @8:32 pm

    Epic post and nicely done. Bat-shit crazy rule. I'm going to use that sometime. I remember back when Randazza received the injunction and domains that were to be transferred to him also, as I recall, ended up transferred by Cox to one Melody Mayers aka Monica Foster. I remember digging that up for Randazza – what seems like ages ago. I note Foster is still her go to buddy and appears to be just as "crazy'.

  18. MCB  •  Jan 19, 2014 @8:34 pm

    Ken,

    Do you think Padrick's attorneys blundered by allowing a jury instruction that did not include recklessness? It seems like it might be over aggressive to me. In a case like that the Jury is liable to be pretty pissed off. So long as you can provide some kind of case for recklessness, it would seem like you have a chance. If you get a jury instruction without recklessness, on the other hand, you are in a tight spot on appeal. Maybe that's just the clarity of hindsight.

  19. jdgalt  •  Jan 19, 2014 @8:43 pm

    What this appears to boil down to is that you feel Cox's malicious and defamatory statements deserve First Amendment protection merely because they sound so insane that nobody with a brain in his head would believe them (unless perhaps he saw one of them out of context).

    I fail to see how this helps anybody who deserves it. I certainly have no use for the "right" to publicly accuse innocent people of unspeakable crimes, then say it was just a joke and walk away scot-free, so I wouldn't lose anything if Cox had not won that so-called "right".

  20. Ken White  •  Jan 19, 2014 @8:43 pm

    @MCB: there are few things more difficult than not overreaching when a judge is willing to give you a good ruling. Wont throw the first stone on that.

  21. Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet)  •  Jan 19, 2014 @9:14 pm

    @SarahW : Cox could still be declared incompetent, but I don't think the public is privy to enough information to know whether that would actually be legal. Just being a vexatious litigant is not, and should not be, enough for a court to declare you incompetent. Much less to commit you against your will to an institution long-term, as used to be done. Courts already have the power in extreme cases to require that vexatious litigants obtain court approval before filing further lawsuits. (At one time, WBC patriarch Fred Phelps was under such an order in Kansas.) Even that is a major decision for a court to make, because the right to access the courts should not be lightly taken away. I'm not sure the parameters of that mechanism in the relevant jurisdictions, but if it's available this would seem a prime case to apply it.

    Suggesting that someone ought to have even more rights than that taken away – which is what a conservatorship or institutionalization would entail – for being mentally ill and filing vexatious lawsuits is to suggest a terrible precedent, ripe for abuse. Just as a ruling protecting Cox's free speech rights protects everyone's free speech rights, even those of us who don't file meritless lawsuits and troll by involving people's spouses and minor children, decisions that "this person is crazy and annoying so let's legally take most of their autonomy in every area of their life away" would set a terrible precedent for people who are not Cox. Extortion is a crime for which she could be imprisoned. Being crazy and annoying is not a crime and doesn't represent the kind of risk to self and others for which we declare people incompetent or lock them up in facilities against their will – and that's a good thing, categorically, for all of us, even if it means some vexatious litigants get to waste judicial resources as a result.

  22. Harry Johnston  •  Jan 19, 2014 @9:25 pm

    @Jamie: it's a conspiracy.

  23. Phe0n1x  •  Jan 19, 2014 @9:53 pm

    Is it just me or did she almost go full Carreon?

  24. Corollax  •  Jan 19, 2014 @10:00 pm

    You made my night, Ken. I love to hear a story where everything turns out well, and we are all better for the resolution of this case.

    Your presentation only makes it all the better. Thank you.

  25. SIV  •  Jan 19, 2014 @10:14 pm

    Souplantation

    I thought I was going to learn a new word. Instead I learned there are 3 within a half hour's drive.

  26. JohnC  •  Jan 19, 2014 @11:18 pm

    Meh. Wake me when she's filed her 300th federal complaint. (See Ajuluchuku, Amanda.)

  27. MCB  •  Jan 19, 2014 @11:55 pm

    Ken,

    Yeah, I guess so. I wonder if this will go to trial again. I don't know the facts beyond what's here, but it seems like the extortion stuff makes a possible case for recklessness to me. There is probably no way to collect any judgment, however.

  28. Noscitur a sociis  •  Jan 20, 2014 @2:18 am

    Marc chose wisely by proceeding narrowly — he didn't seek to capture domains that were on their face critical or satirical, like marcrandazzasucks.com.

    The injunction transfers (at, as is apparent from his complaint, Marc Randazza's request) the domains marcrandazzasucks.com (i.e. the one you specifically said he wasn't complaining about), fuckmarcrandazza.com, marcrandazzaisalyingasshole.com, marcrandazzaparody.com, exposemarcrandazza.com, <randazzalegalgroupsucks.com, trollmarcrandazza.com, hypocritemarcrandazza.com, marcrandazzaviolatedmylegalrights.blogspot.com, arcrandazzaegomaniac.blogspot.com, <marcrandazza-asshole.blogspot.com, and marcrandazzaliedaboutcrystalcox.blogspot.com.

    Thoughts?

  29. Narad  •  Jan 20, 2014 @2:39 am

    You may, with caution, visit Bernstein's site and draw further conclusions.

    I was about to say that the comment here was about all I need, having foolishly gone looking for some technical details of his frothing, but then proceeded to his site, which sadly eschews the <blink> tag (which has a respectable backstory)…. Does his "Iviewit zoom technology" (i.e., the "Phokus1" applet, which last two words will now no longer be a Googlewhack) actually work for anyone? It's only throwing ClassNotFoundException here.

  30. Albert  •  Jan 20, 2014 @3:35 am

    @Noscitur a sociis: Ken's point is not about which sites Marc Randazza did or did not seek to capture; it is about which reason Marc did or did not present when seeking to capture the sites. IOW, Ken did not write "[Marc] didn't seek to capture marcrandazzasucks.com".

    Besides, the WIPO decision does not list marcrandazzasucks.com as having been submitted to WIPO by Randazza.

  31. frosty840  •  Jan 20, 2014 @4:46 am

    Seems to be a typo of "herout" in "her out of pocket expenses" in one of the quotes. Might need a correction or a sic. Or it could be a spelling I'm not aware of. Whatever.
    Brain hurty. Too much wordings.

  32. That Anonymous Coward  •  Jan 20, 2014 @4:48 am

    So I am curious…
    If they had brought to light her "offers" to retract the statements for cash payments, would that have made a difference in how the courts might have ruled? Should they have taken a page from he I don't name and tailored their complaints narrowly on the issue that her actions were merely to seek payments for her silence?
    On the 1 hand she has 1st Amnd. rights to speak freely, but if the main goal of doing these things is merely to try and force payments to herself does this cloud the issue. The speech then isn't her thoughts, but calculated statements to get a target to decide if paying for her silence is worth it.

    I think she is a complete loon, but she has a right to make statements and no one should take that right away simply because some dislike it. (oh hey that happened to me)
    But once they cross the line into "that's a nice X you have, it would be a shame if something happened to it" does/should the bar change?
    Where is the line between extortion & merely trying to get change?

  33. Mark  •  Jan 20, 2014 @5:48 am

    Ken, most any scientist is used to reading "as shown in Figure 4", flipping 2 pages to find Figure 4, realizing that it doesn't make any sense without Supplementary Table S2 and Figure S3, going to the online version of the journal for those, entering in one's university login to get through the paywall, and finally understanding what that original sentence was about. Footnotes and a single appendix are not that strange.

  34. Speed  •  Jan 20, 2014 @5:49 am

    Corollax wrote, "I love to hear a story where everything turns out well, and we are all better for the resolution of this case."

    The objects of Crystal Cox's schemes and not better for having been attacked. On balance, we all would be better if it had never happened. The outcome confirmed the pre-conflict status but it was costly.

    Bastiat's Parable of the Broken Window

  35. Dave Z  •  Jan 20, 2014 @5:54 am

    This is one of the best reads I've read, and it's just the start of 2014!

  36. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Jan 20, 2014 @7:23 am

    Tangent;

    The Skokie business still bothers me. I'm grouch enough that I wish there had been some way to rule that, since the Neo-Nazi twits were clearly marching to provoke a fight they were free to march, but would have to deal with the fight on their own. But I also think that assassinating a politician should be partially protected as political speech and punishable as littering.

    Probably not really practical.

  37. CrystalsTumblingCox  •  Jan 20, 2014 @7:32 am

    ugh… need to read fully though on first glance (or first chapter…too tired to read chapter 2 yet) the Appeal court made the correct decision and kudos go to Mr Volokh and the legal team for both winning the case and having the mental stamina to represent the batshit crazy one.

    Oh and I bet she thought we all here in TumblingCox land forgot about her.. Seriously!

  38. SirWired  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:13 am

    So, now that the overbroad ruling has been taken care of, will Volkoh now drop her like the radioactive batshit-crazy hot-potato she is, or is he obligated to see this farce through to it's inevitable final conclusion?

  39. Ken White  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:13 am

    @Noscitur a sociis: You quoted from a comment about the WIPO action, which carries one legal standard, then contrasted with what he was seeking in the federal civil action, which carried a different standard. The two actions have different legal standards and theories.

  40. Ygolonac  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:16 am

    Ahhh, just the thing for a holiday Monday, when I won't have to schedule work around examining the details of professional-level insanity. (As opposed to the hobbyist-grade commonly seen on the Internet.)

  41. ZarroTsu  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:19 am

    Man, the biggest thing I take away from this whole thing is that there's an astounding market in selling websites by the name of "xxxsucks.com", and the crazy people who want to own such sites for use in extortion.

    Is it extortion itself, or accessory, to create such sites solely to sell the domain names to the crazy people (whom apparently have limitless amounts of money to begin with)? Would it be any better if the selling rates were only listed in bitcoins?

  42. Blah  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:49 am

    She seems legitimately mentally ill.

  43. Ryan  •  Jan 20, 2014 @8:51 am

    This is easily one of my favourite pieces that has ever appeared on Popehat. Wonderfully well-written, witty, and full of intrigue.

    What I would like to know, however, is this: HOW IN THE EVER-LOVING BLAZES HAS THIS WOMAN NOT BEEN CRIMINALLY CHARGED WITH EXTORTION?

    Of course, that brings me to this question (and a bit of my own ignorance about the US):

    However, her complaints include both criminal claims (which, of course, Cox cannot lawfully bring)

    Can Americans who are not police officers or otherwise affiliated with law enforcement not lay criminal charges to be taken over by the authorities? If so, I guess that explains why she hasn't been prosecuted for extortion. Also, that's weird if indeed it is the case.

  44. Albert  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:04 am

    @Ryan: I suspect that, like in France, in the US criminal charges must be laid by someone representing the State (in France it is the procureur, not sure about the US name: prosecutor? District Attorney?) whereas civil charges are laid by the plaintiff.

  45. Ken White  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:10 am

    @Ryan: Some states allow citizens to initiate a criminal complaint, though generally a prosecutor must eventually decide whether to prosecute the case or drop it.

    However, what Cox is trying to do here is file a civil suit alleging violation of federal criminal statutes. She can't do that because, as the relevant cases put it, federal criminal statutes do not create a "private right of action" — that is, a basis for a private civil suit. There are a few exceptions where the statute explicitly creates both a crime and a private right of action.

  46. Dan T.  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:11 am

    If you're really seeking to engage in noncommercial commentary about somebody/something (instead of extort money for it), then xxxsucks.org would be more logical.

  47. MrSpkr  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:21 am

    @Ryan Regarding your question:

    "What I would like to know, however, is this: HOW IN THE EVER-LOVING BLAZES HAS THIS WOMAN NOT BEEN CRIMINALLY CHARGED WITH EXTORTION?"

    - my guess is the scarcity of resources from the U.S. Attorney's offices, the FBI and the federal judiciary. "War on Drugs!" and "War on Terrorism!", you know.

    Though, to be honest, there wasn't a lot of prosecution of this kind of crap even before the "War on Drugs!" and "War on Terrorism!".

  48. SarahW  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:28 am

    Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet)

    I am one of those reactionaries who think obviously mentally ill people with delusions about their place in the world and relation to others around them SHOULD have their rights curtailed and should have some form of guardianship. I know how strongly advocates for the mentally ill prefer limits to liberty of a sick person unless they have committed criminal acts, with standing around being crazy not being one of them.

    And if, in that last sentence, I agree with the last bit, I don't agree with the first. Its enough for me that they are delusional. Mental illness isn't just a state of mind, its a true organic condition that prevents the individual from interacting in rational ways with their environment.

    That's enough to restrict liberties before they start hurting other people or get hurt.

    I live in the real world and don't see my old-fashioned notions returning to favor. However there is another middle ground and that is aggressively pursuing any available penalty or restriction available when the ill person causes damage through their crazy acts; E.g., charge her with extortion. Not as a tort, as a crime. As a form of negotiated sentence or community diversion of sentence, and instead of tossing her in jail, bar her from pro-se lawsuits, force her into treatment, take away her means to extort. She's a public nuisance and there ought to be some way to check that nuisance.

  49. Dan T.  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:29 am

    It would be somewhat ironic if, someday, the appeal decision in her favor gets cited against her in defeating her own claims of defamation against other Internet commenters. This would, however, require one of her cases to get past the summary dismissal for failure to state a claim.

  50. Shane  •  Jan 20, 2014 @9:58 am

    Ok I read that entire post and had to go to the bathroom several times, play with my cat, take out the garbage, make the bed, clean the windows, but I read it.

    I have got to say that my odyssey with Popehat has been THE most informative and learning experience that I have ever had. I am starting to get the guts of "law". I must say it is as other things that I have delved semi-deeply into, not what everyone says it is. I am amazed and astounded at how (in my shallow understanding) much it makes sense especially when given a good guide to it's subtlety.

  51. David C  •  Jan 20, 2014 @10:21 am

    The best lesson here is that courts need to rule based on the law and not based on whether they like a particular defendant or plaintiff. Even if, as a judge, you think Cox is liable, you should not give instructions to the jury that are more unfavorable to her than warranted. Because one of two things can happen on appeal: you get overturned and have to go through another trial, or you get upheld and you've just restricted the free speech rights of everyone.

  52. Toddsler  •  Jan 20, 2014 @10:39 am

    Thanks for the post. I very much enjoy these extensive summaries you put together for some of these ongoing…situations.

  53. Matt  •  Jan 20, 2014 @10:41 am

    It's not clear to me how a false statement could be both "on a subject of purely private interest" and actually harmful to the reputation of the subject.

    While harder, Ken, I don't think it's impossible – if I were to allege that a guy likes to dress up in women's underwear and get whipped by his best friend while they both watch BDSM porn (or something in that vein), that would be private interest (what one does in their bedroom) and (conceivably) actually harmful to their reputation (who really wants to do business with/can trust kids around/etc a "prevert"*).

    *Yes, I *am* going for the Strangelove reference here, not a typo ;)

    (Edited: Decided to genericize)

  54. Kevin  •  Jan 20, 2014 @10:53 am

    When I first started out as an attorney, I represented a government contractor who handled medicare processing. I came across a plaintiff who was eerily similar to Ms. Cox who alleged all sorts of conspiracies that resulted in her medicare claims being denied. She was so crazy as to file a petition for cert with the US Supreme Court.

    At first I thought to myself, if I could orchestrate an introduction of these two litigants, maybe they will each sue each other into oblivion. Then I realized that they would probably join forces to become even more vexatious.

    In the end, the article left me with a chilling thought – how many litigants are there like this out there? As others have pointed out, many of the defendants did nothing to attract the attention of Ms. Cox. It is frightening to think that this could happen to anyone.

  55. Raucous Indignation  •  Jan 20, 2014 @11:19 am

    I will note that while "Bat-Shit Crazy" is a commonly used and wonderfully colorful and descriptive term, it is a misnomer. Rigorous scientific study has repeatedly demonstrated that the excreta from all species of the order of Chiroptera has a high degree of rationality. Far higher than, say, your average libertarian.

  56. David W  •  Jan 20, 2014 @11:27 am

    @SarahW

    people with delusions about their place in the world and relation to others around them SHOULD have their rights curtailed

    I hope you can see how this would be abused?

    If I knew of a way to enact a law that would only be used as I intended, I could possibly agree with you. But I'm confident, in practice, a law like this would result in some crazies being locked up, and also a whole lot of non-crazies who got in the way of someone with power. Maybe on the basis of their 'paranoid delusions of persecution' for some extra irony.

  57. Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet)  •  Jan 20, 2014 @11:36 am

    @SarahW : Ah. So, Constitutions for some, miniature asylums for others?

    People with mental illness don't forfeit their right to autonomy just because you find their behavior annoying or disturbing. Plenty of people don't interact with their environment in what I consider rational ways. That's not enough to take the person's autonomy away. And if you make that the rule? There will be people who exploit it to get rid of people they don't like whose behavior is arguably a sign of mental illness, by finding a doctor willing to say (for a large enough paycheck) that they are sick, rather than just obnoxious.

    And given that even people who are mentally ill with delusional features can quite often be treated, you're setting everyone who does get treatment up for abuse as well. "There's already evidence that you're delusional. Step out of line and see what happens." Because of course an abuser would never exploit the court system to insist that they should have guardianship over their victim, to ensure the victim takes their meds…no, that would never ever happen. Not like abusers don't already threaten mentally ill people with court involvement to control them and threaten that no one will believe the victim because they're mentally ill. Nothing wrong with making that easier, right?

    Nah. I'll take our current system – which still trends unfavorably toward locking people up who aren't a present danger to themselves or others – over a system that has even less regard for the idea that mentally ill people aren't second class citizens who only have the rights we say they should have when we say they should have them and if they don't annoy the powers that be too much. I much prefer a world where someone has to show actual risk of harm to self or others before they can restrict someone's rights over "well, you're delusional, it's only a matter of time, preemptively stripping you of your rights is for the greater good."

    I'm reminded of Memphis' favorite local character, Prince Mongo. Mongo runs for mayor when he's never going to win, gets into pissing matches with his neighbors over yard decor, and insists he has contact with aliens (because according to him he is one). In decades, though, he's never hurt anyone, unless you argue that nonviolent neighbor conflict over decorations and noise is harm sufficient to strip people of their rights. Some people would say he's a public nuisance. Others find him delightful. Who should have the right to stop him from living his life, when he hasn't done anything unlawful or annoying that perfectly sane people don't do?

    Should I be able to have Tom Cruise locked up because he believes in aliens and advocates harmful beliefs that will result in someone getting hurt? Of course I shouldn't. As repugnant as it is for him to advocate against treatment for postpartum for reasons which might very well prove to be legitimately delusional thought patterns (if Cruise were to ever see a doctor who doesn't think that psychiatry was invented to make people sick and gay for profit and control), that's his right, and I shouldn't be able to take to the courts based on perceived but attenuated possible future harm he might do. Some people think all religious belief is delusional. "Your Honor, what if this person's belief that at any time the world might end and they will be judged for what they have done, failed to do, or even thought without acting on, causes them to hurt people?! After all, most of the mass suicides come from people with doomsday beliefs. Think of the children!" Nope. Not okay.

    What you suggest as the middle path is already in place in large part. There's no insanity defense to extortion of which I'm aware, and as I mentioned, you don't have to be delusional to be declared a vexatious litigant and limited in filing lawsuits. Plea bargains can include requiring someone to take medication; although I find that revolting, it's an option. Everything you want can be accomplished without creating a tool for abuse of the actually or arguably mentally ill such as the one you say you prefer.

  58. Sinij  •  Jan 20, 2014 @11:57 am

    I am surprised and pleased that courts protected speech to this degree. As a non-lawyer type I'd have guessed that Cox's fabricated claims would have state-sponsored consequences.

    Is this in a way "she is too crazy to make a factual statement" defense?

    In that case, I am glad that Ken stopped murdering babies for profit.

    Please don't take my autonomy away.

  59. Roland  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:02 pm

    She should not be prosecuted. There are enough crazies in prison as it is, and it's a poor and expensive way to handle the problem.

    http://www.sociology.org/content/vol003.004/thomas_d.html

    Mental hospitals were often horrible places, and commitment of "eccentrics" was often abused. Reagan-era tax cuts along with reductions in "safety nets" and some poor judicial decisions caused emptying & abandonment of many asylums. Society went from one extreme to another. Many of these mass shooting incidents could have been prevented by providing some kind of asylum commitment. It's a difficult question, but bad cases make bad law.

    Has she at least lost her real estate license yet?

  60. AlphaCentauri  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:15 pm

    Cox annoys people but isn't dangerous, and she's batshit crazy.

    Lobbyists who push for militarization of police forces, private prisons with guaranteed numbers of prisoners, foreign military aid and interventions in order to gain government contracts for their clients annoy me, get people hurt and killed, and are chillingly sane. They just know how to stay in the shadows.

  61. Ryan  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:19 pm

    @Ken

    Thanks for clearing that up. I should have said it didn't surprise me that she can't sue on the basis of a criminal complaint, but it did/does surprise me if she couldn't at least attempt to try to lay an information (or whatever it's called in the US) personally, even if it doesn't pass the merit test.

  62. Ken White  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:28 pm

    In that case, I am glad that Ken stopped murdering babies for profit.

    We've actually never been in the black because I expense all of my plastic surgery.

  63. Anton Sherwood  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:43 pm

    Elizabeth McClellan: When you use sarcastic inversion, you need to avoid changing polarity within a sentence. The reader might get dizzy.

  64. Matthew Cline  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:52 pm

    Plaintiff states that Defendant Randazza and his co-conspirators are involved in prostitution rings

    And she left out your squirrel molestation ring? That's sloppy of her.

  65. Narad  •  Jan 20, 2014 @12:55 pm

    I'll take our current system – which still trends unfavorably toward locking people up who aren't a present danger to themselves or others

    We must be looking at completely different mental health systems. In Illinois (the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code of which, IIRC, was pretty early in the '70s wave of legal reform, as well as being much the work of Richard M. Daley), one has to really go out of one's way to be hospitalized under the "involuntary" category, and these hospitalizations have mainly fallen in the past to the state system because private hospitals don't want to touch the legal ramifications, even if one is insured.

    It is also extraordinarily difficult to get a 72-hour hold on someone, with the goal of arriving at the "voluntary" category once they settle down a bit. I've been in a situation where it took the better part of a month, with somebody's landlord's lackey genuinely* harassing me at work daily to somehow "fix" the situation and getting to be on a first-name basis with the cops who were visiting on a regular basis and patiently and 100% correctly explaining to them exactly how this was going to play out.

    In the meantime, the individual in question effectively destroyed the apartment and brought over a bunch of "friendly strangers" who were simply casing the joint and broke in by banging a hole in the wall after gaining access to an adjoining vacant unit from the outside.

    Here's how the story unfolds: The quick and the dead, they come The cops are called repeatedly. Eventually, they haul you to the ER. The ER sedates you and sends you on your way. This repeats once or twice, until you're so well known in the ER that they're starting to feel some heat. Seventy-two hour hold, and you're taking up a bed someplace. Since they can't pretend that you're not taka nuts by this point, you're offered two choices – sign in voluntarily or find yourself involuntary someplace even worse. Then they get rid of you too early, and the whole thing repeats until they break down and realize that it's going to take a full two weeks to really stabilize you.

    At this point, after being brought back a little closer to consensus reality, your landlord evicts you.

    What is really missing these days, and is probably never going to return, is the third legal category, "informal" admission. This was intended to allow people, in moments of lucidness, to check in for a couple of days with no great legal hassles on either end. One can argue that this is simply a recipe for people to take "vacations" in the psych ward, but that ignores the facts that most psych wards still really suck and that such "vacations" still happen, but in the grossly inefficient fashion of presenting oneself to the ER and winding up being held until the next day.

    * This included "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM"–style lying about having a powerful connection with my employer but not being bright enough to realize that I had no reason not to ask that person why some meathead kept throwing his name around.

  66. StewBaby911  •  Jan 20, 2014 @2:17 pm

    for those that get upset at 'Bat Shit Crazy' you could try the U.K. amelioration "Barking Mad"… :)

  67. Elizabeth McClellan (@popelizbet)  •  Jan 20, 2014 @2:22 pm

    @Narad There's a lot of variance between states in terms of what their statutes allow. I was referencing the states that still allow people to be involuntarily committed without a showing that they're a present danger to themselves or others. I don't have my fifty state survey on hand, but as I recall, Illinois isn't one of those states. I'm against letting people be locked up without such a showing. It's too ripe for abuse when states use lesser, vague standards, even if stricter standards result in delays in getting someone help.

  68. Ken White  •  Jan 20, 2014 @2:23 pm

    Ms. Cox is going around the internet complaining about the part of the opinion suggesting she extorts people. I asked a question.

  69. Narad  •  Jan 20, 2014 @3:19 pm

    I don't have my fifty state survey on hand, but as I recall, Illinois isn't one of those states.

    Here's one.

    I'm against letting people be locked up without such a showing. It's too ripe for abuse when states use lesser, vague standards, even if stricter standards result in delays in getting someone help.

    All that's needed now is a demonstration of such abuse's existence (even if the laws should be tightened up to preclude it) and that it in fact outweighs the practical matter that nobody really wants these patients in the first place, which is what I consider the main barrier to getting people into treatment. In the age of deinstitutionalization, hospitals simply aren't long-term warehouses any more.

    Do you posit the scenario of private parties trying to get people committed and courts routinely erring to the full extent possible under law? I don't see the states as having a great deal of interest in cramming street people into what's left of their institutional psychiatric facilities or picking fights with people who have the resources to defend themselves.

    One thing that could absolutely be improved is easing up on the bars to obtaining disability benefits. Having to be in and out of hospitals for a year or more is a waste of everybody's time and resources. (And for G-d's sake, then having to wait two more years for Medicare to kick in is absurd.) And, again, Illinois has the legal mechanism in place to simplify this, but as a practical matter, it's dead.

  70. C. S. P. Schofield  •  Jan 20, 2014 @3:27 pm

    The problem with stripping the deranged of their civil rights is that once you have locked up those who believe that the Government can solve social problems, or that a sitting president somehow arranged for an attack on the United States without making a total mess of it (Bush and Roosevelt), or that space aliens are the only explanation for crop circles and large landscape art, there won't be enough people left to keep the hospitals running.

  71. jerslan  •  Jan 20, 2014 @3:36 pm

    @Noscitur a sociis

    Marc chose wisely by proceeding narrowly — he didn't seek to capture domains that were on their face critical or satirical, like marcrandazzasucks.com.

    The injunction transfers (at, as is apparent from his complaint, Marc Randazza's request) the domains marcrandazzasucks.com (i.e. the one you specifically said he wasn't complaining about), fuckmarcrandazza.com, marcrandazzaisalyingasshole.com, marcrandazzaparody.com, exposemarcrandazza.com, <randazzalegalgroupsucks.com, trollmarcrandazza.com, hypocritemarcrandazza.com, marcrandazzaviolatedmylegalrights.blogspot.com, arcrandazzaegomaniac.blogspot.com, <marcrandazza-asshole.blogspot.com, and marcrandazzaliedaboutcrystalcox.blogspot.com.

    Thoughts?

    In the statement you quoted, he was referring to the WIPO complaint which was limited solely to cites named like "marcrandazza.com" since, in his experience with WIPO those were the most likely to succeed.

    The injunction was from a federal court, not WIPO, and was a separate complaint completely.

  72. Larry  •  Jan 20, 2014 @4:47 pm

    It is good to see that the system can function correctly even when dealing with people like Cox.
    Hopefully somebody will figure how to get her some help before she goes after somebody with violent tendencies and a lack of control. The First Amendment is not much protection when confronted with a wacko with a bat.
    Keep up the good fight Ken

  73. Corollax  •  Jan 20, 2014 @6:40 pm

    @Speed

    The objects of Crystal Cox's schemes and not better for having been attacked. On balance, we all would be better if it had never happened. The outcome confirmed the pre-conflict status but it was costly.

    Bastiat's Parable of the Broken Window

    And yet when a miscreant breaks a window and is compelled by lawful measures to pay restitution to the injured parties, I still consider the system to be working as it should.

    It reassures me that there are mechanisms in place to protect us from those that would abuse the legal system for their own ends. The courts are a vital resource to all of us, and spurious litigation is a threat to both that resource and our free speech.

    Further, when people like Volokh volunteer to protect our first amendment rights, even on the behalf of those who would deny those same rights to others, it gives me hope that those rights will endure.

    Was there damage done? Certainly. But there are mechanisms in place to compensate those who have been affected and to discourage others who might try such schemes in the future. In this, we can take some satisfaction.

    For my part, I found Ken's post exceedingly satisfying.

  74. George William Herbert  •  Jan 20, 2014 @7:46 pm

    @Elizabeth writes:

    @Narad There's a lot of variance between states in terms of what their statutes allow. I was referencing the states that still allow people to be involuntarily committed without a showing that they're a present danger to themselves or others. I don't have my fifty state survey on hand, but as I recall, Illinois isn't one of those states. I'm against letting people be locked up without such a showing. It's too ripe for abuse when states use lesser, vague standards, even if stricter standards result in delays in getting someone help.

    The standards for "a threat to others" need some work. Today, SWATting people has become en vogue for a certain class of disturbed individuals. The societal tolerance for that is too high.

    [I would like again to thank the Hayward Police Department for not overreacting when someone tried that with me a few years ago; three officers on my driveway and a quick polite talk with my wife and I at 3 AM-ish was professional and responsible].

  75. Shropshire Blue  •  Jan 21, 2014 @1:11 am

    "Ultimately this case shows the legal system working."

    False. Isn't criminal law part of a country's legal system?

    If what you (and numerous others) say is true, then I think if your legal system worked Cox would be up on criminal charges for extortion and would be convicted.

    If what you say is not true, then I think Cox would have successfully sued you for libel.

    You definitely describe behaviour by Cox that is what people in most civilized countries would consider to be criminal 'years-behind-bars prison worthy behaviour' by Cox.

    That Cox isn't behind bars represents and enormous failure of the US's criminal justice system.

    Either the USA's extortion laws fail due to being too lax, or the USA's justice system is fails due to not enforcing them. It is a legal system failure.

    And I don't buy any 'not guilty by reason of insanity' argument — the 'she's just a kook' argument other posters are making.

    Prisons are full of insane people. You should need to be so insane you don't know what you're doing is a crime to get off on that. (That is how it is in Canada.)

  76. Shropshire Blue  •  Jan 21, 2014 @1:22 am

    If she was simply crazy and attacking random people who annoyed her, then I would expect that some of the people she was trying to extort money from would be poor.

    But she that isn't the case is it.

    Going by what is described she's got a good racket going, a defective criminal justice system allows it to be legal, and she would be crazy to give it up all that money voluntarily.

  77. Speed  •  Jan 21, 2014 @5:12 am

    Corollax wrote,

    Was there damage done? Certainly. But there are mechanisms in place to compensate those who have been affected and to discourage others who might try such schemes in the future.

    Please identify the "mechanisms" that compensated Kevin Padrick and Obsidian Finance Group. Please identify the "mechanisms" that "will discourage others who might try such schemes in the future."

  78. Steven H.  •  Jan 21, 2014 @6:48 am

    @CSP Schofield:

    But I also think that assassinating a politician should be partially protected as political speech and punishable as littering.

    "Lone Star Planet", by H. Beam Piper

    "Court of Political Justice, Sam Houston Continent, is now in session." (said at the beginning of the trial sequence where someone was being tried for killing a senator – the charge was "excessive atrocity in exercising his right to criticise a practicing politician" – note that the "excessive atrocity" was NOT in killing him, but in using a machete to kill him, rather than shooting him).

    "Killing a politician is not mallum in se (no idea if Piper's latin legalese is correct), and is only mallum prohibitorum if his public acts did not deserve it".

  79. Ken in NJ  •  Jan 21, 2014 @8:25 am

    @Shropshire Blue: If she was simply crazy and attacking random people who annoyed her, then I would expect that some of the people she was trying to extort money from would be poor.

    But she that isn't the case is it.

    Old, and perhaps well-worn, but applicable here:

    A guy gets a flat tire, and rolls to a stop in front of a mental hospital. As he gets out to change it, he notices one of the patients watching him from the other side of the fence.

    He jacks up the car, takes off the wheel, and puts the lug nuts into the hubcap. As he turns to grab the spare, he steps on the hubcap, sending the lug nuts flying into a storm drain.

    The driver paces back and forth, desperately trying to figure out what to do, when the guy on the other side of the fences says "Take one lug nut off each of the others tires and use those three to hold the wheel on. It's not perfect, but it'll hold you until the next service station"

    "Brilliant!" the driver replies. "What is someone as smart as you doing in there?"

    "I'm here because I'm crazy," says the patient, "not because I'm stupid."

  80. Dictatortot  •  Jan 21, 2014 @8:34 am

    The thing that bothers and haunts me is what Ken aptly calls the "Batshit-Crazy Rule." By its principles, a nutcase can legally get away with saying things that most of us legally couldn't. In effect, people like Crystal Cox have certain free-speech rights that saner citizens don't have. Hard to like, and hard to support when put that way.

    Moreover, even a nutcase's wild accusations can eventually become second- or third-hand knowledge. Because someone like Cox would no longer be the direct source, her obvious insanity no longer makes the charges seem quite as palpably crazed as they otherwise would. So it's not clear to me that her words are THAT less capable of harming her targets than another person's would be.

  81. barry  •  Jan 21, 2014 @9:17 am

    If she's crazy enough to think her "reputation management business" is legitimate, the difficulty in charging her with extortion might be that she has shown no sign of a guilty mind in asking for payments. Suing anyone and everyone (including judges) who calls it extortion probably helps.

  82. Dr. Nobel Dynamite  •  Jan 21, 2014 @11:56 am

    @C. S. P. Schofield

    But I also think that assassinating a politician should be partially protected as political speech and punishable as littering.

    I'm sure Gabby Giffords thinks that's a cute way to look at it.

  83. Anton Sherwood  •  Jan 21, 2014 @1:04 pm

    Steven H., for future reference: malum in se, malum prohibitum.

  84. Reilly  •  Jan 21, 2014 @1:13 pm

    Because I could not help myself, it seems Ms. Cox actually has posted YouTube videos in which she details her exploits as an investigative blogger.

    Upon viewing them, I will say she seemed better spoken that i expected, or at least better than the written material she publishes.

    In the video, she discribes, almost coherently, how the bankruptcy system is often abused for personal gain by the lawyers who control the process.

    Sadly she's not completely wrong on that point, only wrong in viciously abusing and criminally extorting this particular trustee based not on any evidence, but on her own paranoia.

    I saw no obvious signs of intellectual disability. Nor did she exude mental illness, other than possibly a rather odd case of NPD mixed with a weird fetish for the ownership of domain names.

    This gratifies me: I can indulge in ridicule of her redicilous and offensive behaviour no longer concerned that I a mocking a person in need of medical attention, as I had previously believed.

  85. James Pollock  •  Jan 21, 2014 @4:28 pm

    Upon viewing them, I will say she seemed better spoken that i expected, or at least better than the written material she publishes.

    Alas, people who are quite deranged can appear lucid for brief periods, and for judges who have to decide matters based only on what they can see, say in the course of a 45-minute hearing, this can be a problem. They don't have enough time to accurately judge whether the accused or the accuser is the one with the more tenuous grasp on consensual reality. This is why there isn't enough money in the world to make me want to be a family court judge.

  86. Reilly  •  Jan 21, 2014 @8:01 pm

    James,

    Oh, she's a kook, but in the "Ken White killed Kennedy" sort of way, not the "The nurse is here to change your diaper" sort of way.

  87. LauraK/Sparrowkin  •  Jan 22, 2014 @11:52 am

    I think, as Captain Mal-tightpants would opine, she "has a problem with her brain being missing"

  88. Anton Sherwood  •  Jan 22, 2014 @12:28 pm

    LauraK/Sparrowkin: Zoë said that, of Mal (The Train Job).

  89. Liz  •  Jan 25, 2014 @2:06 pm

    I'm not sure what exactly led me to this webpage. I was reading about the Hunter Moore case, I think Marc Randazza represented someone who successfully sued him which led me to a parody Randazza Twitter account and a blog that just posts bad news about him and how successful Crystal Cox's lawsuits are. Then I read this entire entry and clearly, that blog is run by Cox. This post gives me some insight into weighing her claims but, I must confess, reading over the anti-Randazza blog, it was clear that the owner had a grudge against him but it wasn't, on the surface, written by someone with a screw loose.

    I'm not sure if this is because I didn't read enough blog posts or I'm not that perceptive or that Cox's lucidity can come and go. I definitely would not say that it was obvious that the claims on it were hyperbole although I doubted they were true.

    Although I'm glad my rights are protected, it's not clear to me that it's easy to distinguish between "opinion" and "fact". Moore lost that case I was looking into because he called the plaintiff a pedophile. I see that (and worse) posted on social media all of the time. So, I'm not sure why a false claim that someone is a pedophile results in a $250K judgment while Cox calling others corrupt and dishonest is merely "an opinion" and she's not held responsible. Clearly, it could be proved that Padrick and Obsidian Finance were not corrupt, that it was factually untrue.

    The line between opinion and a factual claim seems pretty fuzzy to me and I could see judgments going either way (against or for the plaintiff if the statement is clearly untrue).

  90. Laura K/Sparrowkin  •  Jan 25, 2014 @3:00 pm

    Thanks, Anton, I would never wish to take credit away from the glorious Zoe.

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