Free Speech Apparently Less Important Than US Attorney & Courts Silencing 'Annoying' Woman

from the free-speech-ain't-free dept

In November, we wrote about the bizarre and troubling case of a court sealing an amicus brief from the Reason Foundation and the Institute for Justice, which raised important First Amendment questions about a federal grand jury subpoena that seemed designed solely to stifle the speech of a woman, Siobhan Reynolds, who was protesting federal prosecutions of some doctors, whom she felt were wrongly accused. It seemed bizarre that a court would seal an amicus brief about free speech — and a reporter, who was allowed to see the brief and the court’s order to seal it, says that one of the reasons for sealing the brief was that it would help get attention to the cause in question. Yes, the court felt the brief (which was entirely based on public info) should be sealed because it might call attention to public information.

Unfortunately, since then, things only got worse. Radley Balko has the full details on what the case was all about, and it seems like a clear case of the government abusing its powers to stifle the speech of someone they found to be annoying. And, unfortunately, it’s worked. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case and so the harassment succeeded. You should read the full details, but the short version is that Reynolds was a very vocal activist on the issue of pain relief. When Assistant US Attorney Tanya Treadway indicted a doctor and his wife, supposedly for over-prescribing painkillers, Reynolds organized protests which apparently succeeded in getting a fair amount of attention. Treadway’s response was to do whatever possible to silence Reynolds:

The savvy and unusual countercampaign didn’t sit well with Treadway. She first tried to get a gag order preventing Reynolds from talking about the case in public. Judge Belot said no. Several of Schneider’s patients say they were then visited by federal agents, who forced their way into their homes and took documents (including a letter Schneider had sent one of them from prison). Treadway next asked the judge to move the case out of town, arguing that Reynolds’ advocacy had tainted the jury pool (never mind Treadway’s own press conference). Belot denied the change of venue request, too.

Treadway then launched a grand jury investigation of Reynolds, presumably for obstruction of justice, though she told Reynolds’ attorney that she would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was under way. She issued Reynolds a sweeping subpoena demanding all of her records for every case in which she has ever advocated on behalf of a doctor or patient–every e-mail, letter, and phone record, as well as Facebook wall posts and status updates. Complying cost Reynolds tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of labor. With help from the ACLU, Reynolds sued to have the subpoena quashed. She lost. A second judge, Julie A. Robinson, hit her with a $200 fine for contempt each day she didn’t comply. Robinson also declined Reynolds’ request to make the subpoena and related proceedings public, effectively imposing a seal on the subpoena, Reynolds’ challenge to it, and any materials related to either.

In the meantime, the Schneiders were convicted in federal court of drug trafficking. During their sentencing, Federal District Court judge Monti Belot called Reynolds “stupid” and “deranged,” and referred to the Pain Relief Network as a “Bozo the Clown outfit.”

Now, the thing is, no matter what you think of Reynolds or her actions, she does have free speech rights — or, at least, she’s supposed to. She appealed both the subpoena and the sealing, which the appeals court rejected — and now the Supreme Court has rejected hearing the case as well, meaning that the subpoena, which seems only designed to bully, stands and all the details are sealed (though, you can find some things — such as the “sealed” Reason/IJI subpoena on Scribd if you look hard enough).

What’s scary about this is that it appears US officials are abusing the grand jury process, the court system, and the ability to seal details of a case for the purpose of silencing someone they find annoying, in large part because she was successful in getting people to protest some US government actions. This is the type of stuff our government isn’t supposed to do and it’s really depressing to hear of such an abuse of power by the US government.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Free Speech Apparently Less Important Than US Attorney & Courts Silencing 'Annoying' Woman”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
vastrightwing (profile) says:

No surprise here

Yes, this happens all the time. We only heard of this one case, however, I’m sure there are TONS more just like this. What can we do? If you’re a victim, do your research like this woman and make noise. The press won’t research things like this, but if you point it out, they’ll parrot it so people will hear about it.

Joe Ouroburos says:

Re: No surprise here

If you’re a victim, do your research like this woman and make noise. The press won’t research things like this, but if you point it out, they’ll parrot it so people will hear about it.

Which could cause that protest to be silenced through dubious legal actions, allowing you to start a NEW protest about the legally unethical(and likely unconstitutional) silencing of the protest of the original protest.

Either the Government will learn its lesson and release everything or some kind of bizarre judicial singularity will be created. Either way it will be popcorn time!

Anonymous Coward says:

Was that judge drunk when he handed down that sentence? I mean, nobody can be 100% professional 100% of the time, but what’s with the enraged ranting? Granted, there aren’t a lot of details about the case here, but it seems kind of over the top.
Maybe he had a daughter that overdosed on painkillers or something?

Anonymous Coward says:

Grand jury broken - Alternative as bad or worse

No one seriously contends that the Grand Jury is fulfilling the purpose for which it was intended. The Grand Jury system is broken. B0rKed. And no one really disagrees.

But the experience in states where the Grand Jury has been abolished is scarcely better. Those states have replaced an ineffective check upon unbalanced prosecutorial power with?no check at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Could this mean further government expansion?

Linking over-prescribing to drug trafficking would set a very bad precedent that in time may usurp a Doctor’s authority to prescribe medication. Discipline should come from the appropriate medical boards and not repackaged as “drug trafficking” from Government authorities.

What’s dangerous about this is that Percocet and Oxycontin can be prescribed by anyone in the doctor field.

Given a Government victory, it could lay the groundwork for further eroding patient privacy rights and doctor patient privilege. The DEA could be expanded to regulate a Doctor’s ability to prescribe. In this situation, it appears the normal remedy of medical board discipline didn’t occur and licenses to prescribe were not revoked so the DEA stepped in.

Over-prescribing prescriptions may be a problem, but given the relaxing of FDA standards including clinical studies and seemingly 24/7 advertising from Big Pharma, it’s no surprise that people have begun to favor prescriptions over advice from a good doctor, good diagnosis, and then good medicine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Could this mean further government expansion?

A little marginalia–

You’re right, Rose. But this seems to make an additional case for DEA to require access to provider and clinic-level information for enforcement purposes.

This is where ethics issues may come into play for what may amount to both (selective) enforcement and quality of healthcare. That said, the big problem remains in the unintended consequences of FDA deregulation. The US is well down a road of what is ultimately self medication. Ads for pharma products are not geared towards doctor knowledge and good medicine, but sell a “lifestyle” for patients. In many cases, the pharma ads present a “blissful situation” as a result of using their product. To acquire the promises of the advertising, your doctor is only the necessary step.

“Talk to your doctor” is a key phrase used in most Pharma ads. When you “talk to your doctor” something interesting happens– because most practitioners don’t have time to read through the clinical studies of every advertised pharma product to understand it thoroughly, they will probably prescribe it due to existing law, insurance and malpractice issues. So if doctors and clinics are also going to be held accountable directly to DEA enforcement for over-prescribing, what are the chances doctors may withhold providing a prescription? The current situation is broken and the reality is that a doctor has too much to loose by not prescribing– the patient could even sue.

To break this cycle, advertising would need to be scaled back but with all the lobbying dollars spent in Washington, but I just don’t see that happening. The alternative is to extend government reach into both individual patient and practitioner records to identify what may be considered abuse.

vince veratis says:


I’m not really surprised in the way this matter was handled by the Government and the Courts. What truly is disturbing is that the media does not report on it. Freedom of speach is one thing but a passionate defence of that Freedom must surly be one of the main reasons we have a free press.
The destruction of the free press has now filtered down to the ordinary people of a once Free and open society.
America sees itself as the champion of freedom through out the world, it is cases like this that make America’s calls for freedom and democrecy in other nations so hollow.

Americians have been lulled into a sort of hazy sleep over it’s own freedoms, dreaming that they still exist. It is time for Americans to wake up and see what has happened to their once great nation.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...