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.