For Immediate Release
Pennsylvania Court’s Decision to Protect Majority of Anonymous Online Posters a Win for Free Speech,
Public Citizen Says
WASHINGTON - A ruling that protects the identity of the majority of
anonymous posters on a Scranton, Pa., political Web site is a win for
free speech, Public Citizen said today of an order by Judge Peter J.
O'Brien filed in the Lackawanna Country Court of Common Pleas.
Last October, Scranton City Council President Judy
Gatelli sought a court order requiring Joseph Pilchesky, the host of a
message board on www.dohertydeceit.com,
to reveal the identities of posters whom she accused of defamation,
civil conspiracy and "engaging in a campaign of intentional emotional
In Gatelli's complaint, she cited 130 messages posted
on the Scranton "Political" Times, a site that links to DohertyDeceit
and which Pilchesky also hosts.
Of the 98 "John Doe" defendants whose identity Gatelli initially sought, only six have been ordered disclosed. None of Public Citizen's seven Doe clients were ordered to be identified.
Public Citizen argued that because Gatelli is an
elected official, her conduct is a fair subject for public comment.
Furthermore, courts have ruled that subpoenas to reveal the names of
anonymous speakers can chill free speech; those courts have upheld the
right to communicate anonymously over the Internet.
"Of course she doesn't like the scathing remarks of
these anonymous commentators. But are we to expose members of the
public just because they express opinions that our political leaders
dislike?" said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney representing
the anonymous defendants.
Both plaintiff Gatelli and defendant Pilchesky have
indicated that they plan to appeal the order. Public Citizen intends
to participate in that appeal on behalf of its clients if Gatelli
continues to seek to identify them, or as a friend of the court
The judge's decision may be found at http://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/CaseDetails.cfm?cID=427.
George Barron, an attorney in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was
local counsel for the Doe defendants in opposing discovery. To reach
Barron, visit www.attorneybarron.com.