Top Court Champions Freedom to Annoy ...

Top Court Champions Freedom to Annoy Online

Posted in the Utica Forum


United States

#1 May 14, 2014

United States

#2 May 14, 2014
The criminal defense lawyer William Kunstler used to say,“This is New York and there’s no law against being annoying.”

On Tuesday, the state’s highest court appeared to agree, striking down a statute that made it a felony to communicate with someone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”

The ruling, rendered by the Court of Appeals in Albany in a near-unanimous decision, is expected to have a broad effect on hundreds of harassment cases currently being prosecuted in the city. Ronald L. Kuby, one of the lawyers involved in the original case, called the decision a victory for “the demented and dissident, the crazies and the critical, the malcontents and the maladjusted — amen.”

The case involved Raphael Golb, a 54-year-old Greenwich Village resident who waged a yearslong campaign against the academic rivals of his father, Norman Golb, a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. Using dozens of pseudonyms, the younger Mr. Golb accused the rivals of ignoring or plagiarizing his father’s work to further their own careers. For added effect, he opened email accounts in the names of some of his antagonists, and wrote messages appearing to confess to wronging Norman Golb.

Three courts heard rarefied arguments about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of 2,000-year-old religious documents found in 1948 in what is now the West Bank. They also learned about Internet “sock puppets”: false identities created by people like Mr. Golb to wage anonymous wars online.

Mr. Golb was convicted of 30 counts of aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, identity theft, forgery and unauthorized use of a computer, and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation. An appeal in a lower court overturned one count of identity theft.

The decision on Tuesday was mixed for Mr. Golb, a real estate lawyer who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard. The seven judges threw out 10 charges, leaving Mr. Golb with misdemeanor convictions on nine counts of criminal impersonation and 10 of identity theft. The case now goes back to State Supreme Court in Manhattan for resentencing. Without the felony conviction, Mr. Golb can now reapply for his law license.

In striking down the statute on aggravated harassment dealing with speech that was merely annoying or alarming, the judges unanimously ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. They cited another court’s ruling that “any proscription of pure speech must be sharply limited to words which, by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence.” Mere annoying speech, the lingua franca of many New Yorkers, was not enough.


United States

#3 May 14, 2014
The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., called the aggravated harassment statute “one of the most important tools we have to protect victims of, among other serious crimes, stalking and domestic violence.”

“Last year,” Mr. Vance continued in a statement,“there were approximately 900 people charged in Manhattan with this crime; many of these cases are pending. We will now work with advocates, our partners in law enforcement, and state lawmakers to address the potential implications of this ruling.”

Mr. Kuby, who as a young lawyer had worked in a firm with Mr. Golb, said the ruling “removed one of the government’s most powerful tools of censorship, one that is used against the poor and disenfranchised who call officials and complain.”

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called the ruling “a very big deal in the sense that we’ve had a criminal law on the books directed at constitutionally protected speech.”

He added:“Political, religious and other speech often is intended to be annoying. But that is precisely the type of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect.”

In Mr. Golb’s case, the judges upheld his convictions for criminal impersonation — sending emails in someone else’s name — even though they brought Mr. Golb no monetary benefit and did his targets no harm except to their reputations.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, dissenting from the other six judges, argued that such injuries belonged in civil court under libel law. He agreed that “it would be difficult to find the conduct” of Mr. Golb “admirable.” But in accord with Mr. Kunstler, he did not find it criminal

Since: May 14

United States

#4 May 24, 2014
I wonder if Judge Lippman ever came across the following blogs and http://raphaelgolbprobationviolation.wordpres... . Hopefully the author is being truthful and telling the entire story, it looks like Golb may have been involved in violating orders of protection (so how could he appeal then?)
Bobby Oliveira

Clifton Park, NY

#5 May 24, 2014
I am working closely with their administration. 12 indictments are just awaiting the final signatures.

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