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DOJ Requesting The Identities Of Emailers Involved In Trump-Protest Website

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

In the ongoing battle for online rights, the non-profit advocacy group Public Citizen has urged the courts that internet users who emailed a Trump-protest website have the right to remain anonymous.

The web-hosting service DreamHost is facing a warrant from the U.S. Department of Justice to release the information of all users who emailed or received emails from its site DisruptJ20.org, according to a statement from Public Citizen.

Public Citizen is representing three “John Does” who engaged in email contact with the domain/listerv, and according to the motion, “object to disclosures that would lead to identifying them to a federal government that is increasingly hostile to dissent.”

The latest motion was filed in response to D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Robert E. Morin’s decision that DreamHost release the emails and information of those who interacted with the website.

“The execution of the warrant would lead to the loss of the anonymity that they enjoyed in sending and receiving those communications, and in being included in the membership list for the listserv,” the motion argues. “The ‘Does’ unquestionably have standing to raise their First Amendment rights in opposition to discovery that would take away their First Amendment right to send and receive communications anonymously.”

The initial warrant began in connection with a criminal investigation into Trump’s inauguration-weekend rioting that led to 230 arrests. Initially, the DOJ sought the 1.3 million IP addresses of users who had visited the website as a whole, but the government excluded that portion of the request when met with widespread outrage and what seemed like little chance of court approval.

The DOJ claims that several “purported” members were arrested and according to the Washington Post, “the damage caused by the group was in excess of $100,000.”

But Public Citizen and DreamHost maintain that revealing the identities of the John Does will uncover neither criminal intent nor planning of illegal activity. Rather, the two groups believe the DOJ seeks to build a list of those who oppose the Trump administration.

Public Citizen argues that the latest court-issued order did not notify the Does or give them a chance to protect their anonymity.

“That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind,” said DreamHost. “This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”

Jennie Neufeld is a junior writing fellow at AlterNet. She has previously worked for the Observer, the Wild and Nylon Magazine. Follow her on twitter @jennieneufeld.

 

Florida Supreme Court To Hear ‘Stand Your Ground’ Case

By Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

An unexpected roadway confrontation between a family from Indiana and a Kissimmee, Fla., man three years ago could soon reshape the way Florida’s “stand your ground” law is applied in cases throughout the state.

Wrapping up a vacation on Dec. 29, 2011, Ronald Bretherick was driving toward Disney World with his wife, Deborah, and their son and daughter, when the family says they were nearly sideswiped by an sport-utility vehicle on U.S. Highway 192.

Bretherick honked as the other driver, Derek Dunning, sped past in a blue Escalade.

From there, the situation quickly escalated.

By the time it was over, the Brethericks’ son Jared was in jail, accused of pointing a gun at Dunning. The then-22-year-old said he was trying to assure his family’s safety until authorities arrived.

Though no shots were fired, a judge refused his request for immunity from prosecution under “stand your ground.” He appealed, challenging the procedure used by Florida courts in “stand your ground” cases.

The Florida Supreme Court is set to hear his case Tuesday. If Jared Bretherick prevails, defendants may no longer have to prove they acted in self-defense in order to win immunity — potentially expanding the application of the self-defense law.

Deborah Bretherick said she could see trouble coming after her husband hit the horn.

“The way he stared at me, it was just the most unnerving” look, she recalled in a recent interview.

According to the Brethericks’ account: Dunning cut them off, then came to a stop in front of them, in the center lane of traffic, and left his SUV. Ronald called 911 and showed his still-holstered gun as a warning. Dunning then returned to his SUV but backed it up toward the Brethericks.

Deputies said they arrived to find Jared Bretherick standing outside his family’s truck, pointing his father’s gun toward Dunning’s SUV.

His mother and sister had fled to the roadside; Jared explained he stayed behind to protect his father, a disabled veteran. He also said he heard Dunning claim to have a gun, though none was found.

Jared Bretherick was arrested on an aggravated assault charge. After a hearing in June 2012, Circuit Judge Scott Polodna largely accepted the Brethericks’ account as true, but denied Jared’s request for immunity, due to several factors:

––Dunning wasn’t committing a forcible felony, the judge ruled. At worst, he said Dunning’s driving was reckless and the “threatening act” of leaving his SUV to approach the Brethericks was assault, a misdemeanor.

––After Ronald Bretherick waved the gun, Dunning returned to his SUV — a “retreat,” the judge ruled.

––Polodna didn’t buy that Dunning had claimed to have a gun and said there also was a miscommunication: Jared Bretherick told Dunning to leave or he would shoot, but Dunning said he heard, “If you move, I will shoot you.”

“This slight but critical misunderstanding explains everyone’s subsequent actions,” Polodna wrote.

Bretherick appealed Polodna’s ruling, challenging the procedure Florida courts have used for years, which places the burden of proof on the defense to win immunity without a trial.

The argument for Bretherick’s side: Florida’s self-defense law promises “immunity,” even from arrest, so those who act in self-defense shouldn’t have anything to prove.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal, finding that the burden issue hadn’t been specifically addressed in previous cases, asked the state Supreme Court for guidance.

If the Supreme Court sides with Bretherick, those who claim “stand your ground” in the future would not have to prove it. Instead, the state would have to prove the defendant did not act in self-defense, in a pretrial hearing and again at trial.

“If the court rules the state’s got the burden, I think it’s going to open the door for a lot of lawyers to use the immunity statute that were not using it,” said Robert Buonauro, an Orlando attorney with “stand your ground” experience.

Charles Rose, director of Stetson Law’s Center for Excellence in Advocacy, says the burden debate arises from a basic issue: The law was designed as “a political statement about the right to bear arms,” but lacked specifics, giving no procedure for how the courts would decide immunity.

“It’s a political statute being applied in the real world set of circumstances,” he said.

Both Rose and Buonauro say the state should have the burden in “stand your ground” cases.

The National Rifle Association, which helped craft “stand your ground,” has filed a brief in support of Bretherick’s position.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, in its response, argued changing the procedure “could call into question the validity of numerous convictions … and disrupt a process now relatively well-honed in the trial courts.”

The Brethericks called 911 as soon as the conflict with Dunning began: “100 percent of my feeling was, as soon as the police get here, we’ll be fine,” Deborah Bretherick recalled.

She said the shock of her son’s arrest was compounded when she learned about Dunning’s past.

A convicted felon, Dunning served prison time in a 2003 case with similar allegations, records show: He attacked a driver who had tried to pass him on John Young Parkway, before hitting the man with his car while fleeing the scene.

Dunning, who also called 911 during the 2011 incident, did not return multiple calls to the cellphone number listed for him in prosecution records. An attorney for Dunning could not be reached.

He told deputies he was confronted by Jared Bretherick at gunpoint after stopping at a traffic light.

Deborah Bretherick said her son is a responsible gun owner who attended a citizens’ academy to learn how to use firearms safely. He faces a mandatory three-year prison sentence if convicted.

“He always has a smile, always greets you with respect,” his mother says. “He’s always just respectful of people’s property, of people in general.”

Jared Bretherick’s lawyer, Eric Friday of Jacksonville, says the arresting deputies fell victim to their initial impressions.

“Some people in law enforcement feel that anybody with a gun other than law enforcement must be a bad guy,” he said. “And I think that’s what happened here.”

Florida Supreme Court Sends Same-Sex Divorce Case Back To Lower Court

By Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Florida — The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declined a request for it to take up the issue of same-sex marriage, sending back to a lower court the case of two women who were denied a divorce by a Hillsborough County circuit judge.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal passed up ruling in the case last month, sending it directly to the high court and arguing gay marriage is an issue of “great public importance,” likely to impact more than just the Tampa couple.

Citing its potential to effect “the proper administration of justice,” the appeal court was trying to skip a step and expedite the case’s path to the high court. But the justices deemed that “pass through” maneuver unnecessary.

Mariama Shaw and Keiba Shaw got married in 2010 in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. They want a divorce, but a circuit judge in Hillsborough rejected their request, saying their marriage is not valid in Florida.

Same-sex couples have won limited victories in several Florida counties in recent weeks, and activists have been hoping to get a case in front of the state’s Supreme Court, in order to get a decision that would apply statewide.

The Supreme Court specifically cited the dissenting opinion written by Judge Chris Altenbernd of the 2nd District, who disagreed with his Court of Appeal colleagues when they passed the case on to the higher court in August.

He wrote the case’s impact isn’t broad enough, arguing it hinges only on whether Florida must recognize other states’ same-sex marriages for the purposes of divorce — and not whether its same-sex marriage ban is constitutional.

“Although the issue on appeal is important to this couple, I am not convinced that the order on appeal presents an issue that is ripe to be treated as one with great public importance,” Altenbernd wrote in his dissent.

Photo: sigmaration via Flickr

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Florida Congressman Asks For Annulment, Accuses Wife Of Bigamy

By Jeff Weiner, Orlando Sentinel

ORLANDO, Fla. — When U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) married his wife, she was already wed to another man, according to a new court filing by the congressman’s lawyers, seeking an annulment on the basis of bigamy.

In new court paperwork filed in the couple’s divorce case last week, days before their 24th anniversary, Grayson accuses Lolita Grayson of fraud, unjust enrichment and misrepresentation, among other claims.

He’s also suing for defamation, the new document states, stemming from a disturbance at their home in March. Lolita Grayson accused her husband of shoving her, but later dropped her petition for a domestic injunction.

Lolita Grayson’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a call or emails seeking comment on Tuesday.

Alan Grayson’s new filing, a counter-petition to her January divorce filing, states that when he met Lolita Grayson in 1985, she “represented herself as single in order to induce Mr. Grayson to marry her.”

The paperwork refers to the couple’s union as a “bigamous marriage.” Lolita Grayson filed a false application for their marriage license, it says, asserting that she had been divorced since 1981.

“Unbeknownst to Mr. Grayson,” the filing adds, “Ms. Grayson was married and remained married to another man… up to and after the parties conducted an apparent marriage ceremony on April 28, 1990.”

Several years after marrying Alan Grayson, Lolita Grayson “secretly participated” in a divorce from her prior husband, a man named Robert Carson, in Broward County, Fla., the documents state.

Attached to the congressman’s counter-petition was a document dated March 7, 1994, purported to be a final divorce judgment. It lists Lolita Carson as the respondent, and Robert Carson as the petitioner.

Alan Grayson’s counter-petition argues that his marriage to Lolita Grayson led to her “unjust enrichment,” and that he has suffered “humiliation, emotional distress and financial damages.”

The congressman’s filing asks Circuit Judge Bob LeBlanc to annul their marriage, order Lolita Grayson to “make an accounting of all of the money and property she has received” and establish a trust, “providing for their return to Mr. Grayson.”

The new court paperwork also accuses Lolita Grayson of defamation, libel, slander and abuse of process, stemming from a March 1 confrontation at their home near Windermere.

Lolita Grayson filed a petition for a restraining order after the incident, alleging that Alan Grayson “deliberately and with force pushed” her against their front door, “causing (her) to fall to the ground as a result.”

However, Alan Grayson’s attorneys later released video which they said proved Lolita Grayson was the aggressor. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office declined to make an arrest, and Lolita Grayson has since dropped her petition.

“Mr. Grayson has suffered, and will continue to suffer, harm proximately caused by Ms. Grayson’s defamatory, slanderous and libelous conduct, including but not limited to mental anguish and harm to reputation,” the new filing says.

The court paperwork indicates Alan Grayson is seeking damages in excess of $15,000 on several of the counts alleged in his counter-petition, as well as punitive damages.

Lolita Grayson filed for divorce in January, saying their marriage “is irretrievably broken.” She sought joint but primary custody of their four minor children, as well as their marital home, alimony and child support.

In his counter-petition, Alan Grayson seeks parental responsibility for the children and the exclusive use of the family’s home.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons