Scott Bloch used to be a deputy director to the Department of Justice's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush and a Special Counsel at the United States Office of Special Counsel. Now he's a defendant in a federal criminal case, and has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for approving a "seven level wipe" on certain Office of Special Counsel computers, and now faces sentencing. This represented a milder charge than ones the government previously pursued: the feds charged him initially with contempt of Congress but abandoned that charge after Bloch was allowed to withdraw a guilty plea to it.
In addition to all that, it appears that Scott Bloch is a censorious thug.
Empty Wheel — which has been following Bloch's prosecution closely — has a post describing how Bloch has threatened bloggers writing about his case. Empty Wheel attaches and quotes a letter on Scott Bloch's own law firm letterhead. It includes the following language:
I write to demand that you remove these articles and blogs about me and my time as Special Counsel immediately. This is harmful to my professional reputation as a lawyer and you are not commenting on any public matters that are current. The prior legal defense fund is defunct and has not been active for over two years. Your demeaning and personal attacks impute to me qualities that tend to injure me in my business of representing contractors. Your website is dedicate [sic] to them and therefore you are targeting my business in Washington, D.C. intentionally, and my residence in Virginia, from where I draw some of my clients.
If you choose to ignore this and not remove the materials from your internet site and blogs and all caches, I will be forced to sue for an injunction and to seek damages. As long as the article remains on your website, you are publishing it. In addition, you are publishing it in various fora, including in Virginia and Washington D.C. where I represent employees and federal employees [sic] Continuing publication also subjects you to Virginia jurisdiction as long as the article remains on the web. I will institute an action in Virginia and in Washington D.C. against you for defamation and actual malice, together with damages and punitive damages.1 I will also seek damages for civil conspiracy to harm my business, and Virginia courts and juries have proved to be very protective of one’s business reputation when gratuitously harmed by publications. If I determine through discovery that you have worked with others to do this, I will join them as well. (emphasis added)
Were it not a vexatious attempt to chill free speech, Bloch's letter would be comical because it is so surpassingly ridiculous. First, Bloch does not specify which specific statements in the blog posts are false and defamatory. As I often say, vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery. Second, the assertion that Bloch's federal case — the prosecution of a former Department of Justice and Office of Special Counsel lawyer — is not a "public mater" that is "current" is freakishly frivolous. Third, the demand that bloggers remove all materials — not just specified allegedly false statements — is legally unsupportable and a reliable tell of censorious bullying, not merit. Fourth, the statement "As long as the article remains on your website, you are publishing it" is at best a highly questionable assertion of law. Virginia will probably follow the Single Publication Rule, and the District of Columbia definitely follows it; that rule provides that the statute of limitations for a defamation suit begins to run when a statement is first published, even if it remains on the internet thereafter.
Bloch's letter has all of the signs of bullying and none of the signs of truth. Empty Wheel notes that he has not threatened a larger blogger with a wider audience, but smaller blogs — perhaps ones more easily cowed.
I hope that someone finds a way to put this threat before the judge in Bloch's case to consider when he is sentenced.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Free Speech Triumphant Or Free Speech In Retreat? - June 21st, 2017
- The Power To Generate Crimes Rather Than Merely Investigate Them - June 19th, 2017
- Free Speech, The Goose, And The Gander - June 17th, 2017
- Free Speech Tropes In The LA Times - June 8th, 2017
- I write letters - June 1st, 2017