Monday, August 01, 2011

Divorce blog sparks freedom of speech debate

It's not an uncommon scenario: after a separation one party starts writing a blog about their experiences, as a way to 'let off steam'. In Philadelphia, however, a man's blog has sparked off a freedom of speech debate, after a family court judge ordered him to take it down.

Anthony Morelli launched ThePsychoExWife.com in 2007. As one might guess from that name, the blog was full of less than flattering tid-bits about his ex-wife Alison, including likening her to Jabba the Hut, but "with less personality". Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending upon how you look at it), the blog became very popular with others who had had similar marital experiences, and eventually it came to Alison's attention. Needless to say, she was not amused, describing it as "heartbreaking", and potentially harmful to their 12- and 9-year-old sons.

At a custody hearing on the 6th June Bucks County Court Judge Diane Gibbons took a similar view. She ordered Mr Morelli to "take down that website" and never again refer to his ex-wife "on any public media" or mention his children online "other than 'happy birthday' or other significant school events."

In his next post on the site, Mr Morelli indicated that he would comply with the order, despite considering it to be "completely illogical". However, this was followed by another post in which Allison Morelli was described as "a f- psycho" and which pledged to keep the site going. Mr Morelli claims that this post was written by his girlfriend.

This did not amuse Judge Gibbons. When she saw the further postings, she fixed another hearing, for the 14th June. At that hearing, she threatened Mr Morelli with contempt, and said that what she had read on the site was not just 'venting', but amounted to "outright cruelty". She said:
"Father and [girlfriend] appear to believe that this is about some legal battle, that this is about 1st Amendment [i.e. freedom of speech] rights, that this is about some kind of legal technicality where a good civil rights lawyer should get involved.

"Father and [girlfriend] are wrong. This is about children. You may say anything that you would like to say. You may publish it. You may put it on a billboard. But you will not have your children, because that is abusive."

The website was shut down, but Mr Morelli has not given up. He has hired another lawyer to appeal, and the site now redirects to another site called 'Save ThePsychoExWife.com - Protect Freedom of Speech', which seeks donations towards his legal fees.

The case has apparently caused some argument amongst legal experts, with 1st Amendment experts considering that the judge had overstepped her bounds, and at least one family lawyer taking the view that she had done the right thing to protect the children. I know where my views lay, but then I'm not a freedom of speech lawyer...

5 comments:

  1. If it's true and not lible then don't see the issue really.

    Wish I'd thought of this, I could have had a site with over 50 non sensical court appearances getting nowhere.

    Obviously these Judges don't want people to see how poor their family law courts are and thus is a freedom of speech issue. Not that I see these courts as being that busy anymore with fewer marrying and making themselves at their mercy. Last few times I have gone they have been emptier and emptier.

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  2. I think it is illegal in the UK to talk about family law case specifics at all. So much for freedom here. I was going to write a book, but realised to be legal would rip the heart out of it, a bit like the family courts indeed, they rip your heart out.

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  3. p.s. Not sure on the picture.

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  4. A useful corrective, this, to the commonly-held view in Britain that the 1st Amendment means that American courts never interfere in any way with anything anyone wants to publish.

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