Court To Twitter: No Time For Appeal, Hand Over Info Or You're In Contempt

from the ouch dept

We’ve been covering the legal fight concerning the government’s desire to access Tweets and other information related to Malcolm Harris, an Occupy Wall Street protestor who was arrested. Twitter had jumped into the case to argue that users have standing to protect their own information, which the court denied. Twitter then said it would appeal, but it appears that NY State Supreme Court Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino Jr. doesn’t care, claiming that its failure to hand over the info may put it in contempt of court:

The judge had asked Twitter to show why it wasn’t in contempt of court after refusing to produce information about Twitter posts by protester Malcolm Harris in response to a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

“I can’t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily,” Sciarrino said.

Twitter and Harris’s lawyers point out that this seems to completely ignore Twitter’s right to appeal the ruling. Sciarrino again doesn’t seem to think this is an issue, insisting that his original ruling was “fair” and Twitter has had more than enough time to comply with the order. Harris’ lawyer notes that this appears to be an attempt at railroading, preventing due process from happening:

“It’s pretty outrageous that the D.A.’s office wants to prohibit Twitter from exercising its right to appeal,” said Martin Stolar, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild who represents Harris, after the hearing.

Unfortunately, that seems to be how things work these days…

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Comments on “Court To Twitter: No Time For Appeal, Hand Over Info Or You're In Contempt”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Contempt: Civil versus criminal

?I can?t put Twitter or the little blue bird in jail, so the only way to punish is monetarily,? Sciarrino said.

Wait a second.

The purpose of civil contempt is not punishment. Rather, the civil contempt power is to coerce.

If the judge is out to “punish”, then it’s criminal contempt?and there needs to be a trial.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Contempt: Civil versus criminal

Mine Workers v Bagwell (1994):

Although the procedural contours of the two forms of contempt are well established, the distinguishing characteristics of civil versus criminal contempts are somewhat less clear. In the leading early case addressing this issue in the context of imprisonment, Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., the Court emphasized that whether a contempt is civil or criminal turns on the “character and purpose” of the sanction involved. Thus, a contempt sanction is considered civil if it “is remedial, and for the benefit of the complainant. But if it is for criminal contempt the sentence is punitive, to vindicate the authority of the court.” Ibid.

As Gompers recognized, however, the stated purposes of a contempt sanction alone cannot be determinative. “[W]hen a court imposes fines and punishments on a contemnor, it is not only vindicating its legal authority to enter the initial court order, but it also is seeking to give effect to the law’s purpose of modifying the contemnor’s behavior to conform to the terms required in the order.” Hicks. Most contempt sanctions, like most criminal punishments, to some extent punish a prior offense as well as coerce an offender’s future obedience. The Hicks Court accordingly held that conclusions about the civil or criminal nature of a contempt sanction are properly drawn, not from “the subjective intent of a State’s laws and its courts,” but “from an examination of the character of the relief itself.”

(Footnotes and pincites omitted.)

That case goes on to cite United States v. United Mine Workers of America (1947) for the proposition:

This dichotomy between coercive and punitive imprisonment has been extended to the fine context. A contempt fine accordingly is considered civil and remedial if it either “coerce[s] the defendant into compliance with the court’s order, [or] . . . compensate[s] the complainant for losses sustained.”

Certainly the judge may impose a fine to coerce Twitter’s obedience. The judge may also impose a fine to compensate injured parties for Twitter’s disobedience?as long as that compensatory fine is calibrated to the harm suffered by those injured parties and payable to them.

But when a fine is calibrated instead to Twitter’s ability to pay, and levied for the purpose of upholding the court’s dignity, then the character of the contempt proceeding changes.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Contempt: Civil versus criminal

Actually, he has someone to punish. Any accredited Twitter representative in the court up to and including their lawyer who is presumed to be taking instruction from them.

Even then, the fine can only be a “small” one and with some conditions that make it impossible for the judge to keep fining Twitter and/or its representatives over and over again for the same thing.

As has been noted Criminal Contempt requires a hearing. The fine I’m discussing is more in the way of the fine one might pay in any other civil matter like parking for two hours and 10 seconds in a two hour zone. You can appeal that, too, but in most cases you still pay the fine for parking.

Most judges I know of in Canada, where I live would put a stay on the order they issued as the appeal went forward. Particularly if the grounds for the appeal was a serious point of law. I’m presuming that the judge issued the “produce the data” order because he interprets Twitter’s refusal to do so as, in some way, hindering the collection of information useful in a prosecution which is, in and of itself a criminal act.

Which leads us all out of the civil realm and into the criminal one again.

Though that changes nothing in terms of Twitter’s right to appeal the contempt ruling and the judge’s original ruling.

Incidentally none of this has to do with the judge being fair. He can pat himself on the back as much as he wants he’s there to correctly interpret the law, make rulings based on that interpretation based on precedent, similar cases and so on down the line. Fair doesn’t enter the picture.

Nor does effectively denying Twitter its right to appeal. That, pardon my phrasing, is contemptible in and of itself.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: A question

If I’ve got the facts straight, they are charging him with ‘disorderly conduct’, which is classed as a misdemeanor.

Let that sink in for a minute, to really appreciate the priorities these power hungry criminals have. Those involved are willing to railroad the court case, and just completely trash the idea of justice, over a misdemeanor. This level of abuse of the court system wouldn’t be acceptable for a felony, or ever really, but they seem to think it’s perfectly fine to do so with a charge that insignificant.

Of course the cynical part of me has to wonder if they’re going after him so hard due to the fact that he and twitter didn’t just cooperate from the get go; basically to make an example of him of what happens when you say ‘no’ to big brother.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Correct me if I'm mistaken...

…but isn’t the whole point of an appeal a way to try and get a second/third opinion, due to believing that the judge got it wrong?

If all it takes to block an appeal is the judge saying ‘No, I’m pretty sure I got the ruling right’, then the whole appeal process would be completely negated, as I’m betting you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a judge that would admit upfront that they screwed up their ruling.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Holiday spirit

“Your ‘joke’ is neither amusing, not witty. It is instead highly disrespectful of the lives lost on 9/11.”

It is no joke, it is beyond sad and horrific that the current police state has sprung up from the ashes of catastrophe. And this disrespect trope I’ve been hearing is complete rubbish, disrespect has been towards those who remain.

Thomas (profile) says:

The government

has decided that anyone who dares to protest against the sacred Gods of Wall Street and the banks has to be a terrorist and should be tossed into prison for long terms and anyone who gets in the way is also a terrorist.

The constitutional right to assemble peacefully doesn’t fly with today’s government and will continue this way regardless of who wins the election in November.Oops, I mean who buys the election.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, it seems that the court has this one right.

The information should be turned over directly, as per the court order – and also APPEALED. If the appeal works, the information is removed from who it was given to, and any legal action as a result against third parties goes out the window.

Twitter does not lose it’s right to appeal when the information is turned over. If anything, it’s more risky for those receiving the information, because if the appeal is won, their case against third parties will always be easy to question and defeat.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“You cannot unsee what you have seen”

1. Dictator sues to get info on dissident and judge agrees
2. Twitter appeals and hands over the info as you cleverly suggest
3. Dictator does all the bad things he wants with the info
4. Twitter wins appeal
5. Dictator unsees the information and undoes all bad things, raising the occasional victim back from the dead

Anonymous Coward says:

?It?s pretty outrageous that the D.A.?s office wants to prohibit Twitter from exercising its right to appeal,? said Martin Stolar, a lawyer with the National Lawyers Guild who represents Harris, after the hearing.

Isn’t this the judge’s call? The DA pushes for his advantage, the defense their’s and the judge rules. Why is the DA the villain in an adversarial system?

Anonymous Coward says:

Was the judge’s ruling more than 180 characters?

I don’t think the judge was denying their right to appeal per se, but insisting they turn over the info WHILE they are appealing.

Of course, if they were to win on appeal, you can’t exactly take back the information you were wrogly forced to hand over in the first place.

And what if, as a result of illegally turning in that info, harm had come to the defendant? Or he was put in jail as a result of it?

Naturally he’d be released if he won on appeal, but what’s done is done.

I hope the EFF gets involved with this one. I’m tired of judges viewing electronic communication as less protected than what has been written on paper.

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