Attorneys In Seth Rich-Linked Defamation Case Demand Identifying Info Of Thousands Of Twitter Users [Updated]

from the only-the-DOJ-can-issue-a-broader-bullshit-subpoena dept

UPDATE: According to Dissent Doe (who runs the essential, the ridiculous subpoena has apparently been withdrawn by Aaron Rich’s lawyers.

The brother of murdered DNC employee Seth Rich is suing some right-wing writers and their publishing platforms for defamation. Aaron Rich raises some rather decent libel claims, pointing out he’s been subjected to numerous articles, tweets, podcasts, and livestreams pushing the theory he’s either responsible for his brother’s death or profited from it in some way. The lawsuit [PDF] names America First Media, the Washington Times, and writers Edward Butowsky and Matt Couch as defendants.

The allegations are serious. Everything that’s been claimed by the defendants accuses Aaron Rich of multiple criminal acts. This is the list of allegedly defamatory claims made by those being sued.

Aaron worked with his brother, Seth, to steal and leak DNC documents to WikiLeaks, including by serving as the information technology expert that made the leak of documents to WikiLeaks possible;

Aaron received money into his own bank account from WikiLeaks for helping Seth provide those stolen documents;

Aaron knew in advance that his brother was going to be murdered for his role in leaking documents to WikiLeaks, but did nothing to stop it, and even warned Seth’s girlfriend in advance to break up with him to protect her own safety;

Aaron has covered up his involvement in his purported role in leaking documents to WikiLeaks; and

Aaron has obstructed justice by interfering with law enforcement efforts to bring his brother’s murderer to justice, including his purported refusal to provide law enforcement with access to investigative materials.

The lawsuit is interesting reading. And it’s disturbing reading. Rich made several private attempts to secure retractions from the defendants but his efforts only encouraged more articles and unproven claims to appear.

But this post isn’t about that lawsuit… at least not directly. Twitter user Virgil spotted a rather disturbing subpoena linked to the case. Sent to Twitter by Rich’s lawyers, the subpoena [PDF] demands Twitter produce identifying info for thousands of Twitter users.

It first lists the “primary” Twitter accounts it wishes to obtain information about:

Twitter accounts associated with the following Twitter handles: @RealMattCouch; @americafirstmg; @EdButowsky; @WashTimes; @JamesALyonsJr, @ThinBlueLR; @Hannibalmoot; @FITE4THE USERS; @Eddie_Graham23; @TruthinGovernment201; @therealbp65; @jflippo1327; @Ty_Clevenger; @JaredBeck; @CassandraRules; @gatewaypundit; @KimDotcom; @JulianAssange; @Wikileaks; @RogerStoneJr.

This would be concerning enough if that were the end of it. Many of these Twitter accounts have nothing to do with the defendants other than their echoing of allegedly-defamatory claims and their general political persuasion. Wikileaks has nothing to do with this other than its release of DNC emails. Everything tying Aaron Rich to Wikileaks stems from the defendants’ actions and words — not anything Wikileaks has done itself. This is already overbroad and we haven’t even gotten to the really broad part.

The next paragraph of the subpoena demands info for all of the following accounts:

The term “Secondary Accounts” means any Account that communicated with the Primary Accounts, including but not limited to tweeting, re-tweeting, direct messages, and replies from January 1, 2015 to the present.

This has the potential to snare thousands, if not millions, of Twitter users in Rich’s subpoena dragnet. (I know I would be one of the “secondary accounts,” as would be all of the Techdirt writing staff and site owner Mike Masnick.)

To be clear, Twitter has not turned over this info to Rich’s lawyers. His legal team is going to be facing a lot of tough questions from the judge once Twitter submits its challenge. (According to the docket, it doesn’t appear Twitter has done that yet, but then again, it was only served June 1st.) There’s always a small chance the judge will see nothing wrong with Twitter producing information linked to thousands of accounts, but that’s very unlikely. Twitter, fortunately, has a solid legal team. Other outlets that may be served in this case may not.

Rich’s lawyers should know better than this. Perhaps they’re hoping the absurdity of the request will result in a narrowing that still allows them to access account info they would like to have, but haven’t shown any legal reason to demand. It’s also a reminder that subpoenas are only judicially vetted after they’ve been submitted to recipients and (this is important) after the recipient challenges them. Subpoena power is immense and it’s up to courts and recipients to ensure the power isn’t abused.

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Comments on “Attorneys In Seth Rich-Linked Defamation Case Demand Identifying Info Of Thousands Of Twitter Users [Updated]”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: [Updated] ... retroactively?

The [Updated] part was visible when it was in the crystal ball list and readable, so my guess is simply that between the time it was written and when it hit that stage the update part was added rather than scrapping it entirely.

Given the subject matter it seems to be the right way to handle it. Yes the subpoena was withdrawn, but given how insanely broad it was it’s still worth pointing out, as it never should have been requested in the first place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: [Updated] ... retroactively?

But isn’t that just typical lawyer tactics to request something they know will almost certainly get slapped down, just on the remote possibility that it might squeak through due to an incompetent defense? Or perhaps as part of a scorched-earth/kitchen-sink legal offense, when they’re just throwing everything they can dream up at their opponent until they run out of money fighting all the crazy legal shenanigans.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 [Updated] ... retroactively?

If it is that’s all the more reason to call them out on it, because ‘let’s ask for everything to force the other party to defend against our insane demands, where they either fold on some of it or fold entirely because they ran out of money’ should not be considered an acceptable use of the legal system.

If a lawyer submits a request that they know is going to be slapped down for being incredibly overbroad then they absolute deserve the negative attention for even attempting it, even more so if they didn’t realize just how crazy their demands were before making them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 [Updated] ... retroactively?

The Church of Scientology uses a well-worn scorched earth battle strategy. When sued, they always contest the corporate entity to be sued (the “church” consists of many dozens of separately incorporated legal entities) they contest the jurisdiction of the court, try to get the person’s lawyer or law firm removed from the case, try to get the presiding judge removed from the case by filing a writ of mandamus to a superior court, and so on. So by the time the case actually goes to court, they’ve already filed numerous motions (and lost most if not all of them) with each motion being essentially a scorched earth court battle in itself. Then of course they appeal every motion they’ve lost. Discovery is another bottomless pit of legal shenanigans. As is the appeals process.

It’s incredible to watch the Church of Scientology use the same legal play book time after time, running down the clock and running up enormous (but highly predictable) legal costs. I think only one person has ever stuck it out all the way, and his legal battle against Scientology lasted for 22 years.

So maybe that’s a reason why I hardly notice whenever some random lawyer does something to try to take advantage of the legal system, because to me, lawyers are basically just criminals who carry briefcases instead of guns.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: [Updated] ... retroactively?

O.K. then. If paid “insiders” get to read articles an hour or two early, do they also have a private discussion forum where they can privately notify the writer, or just the same comment section that everyone else gets?

A number of times I’ve seen Mike Masnick’s articles updated later in the day in response to reader comments, but I’ve never noticed that happen in the other writers’ articles.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Defamation? Maybe

Given the breadth of laws in this country, it is entirely possible that laws were broken, but have not yet been charged, and may not be charged as those in power perceive those charges to be beneficial to them, or not. On the other hand, those statements may or may not be defamatory now, but will or won’t be in the future, depending upon the DOJ’s future behavior.

Either way, asking for thousands of Twitter accounts information seems a bold, and quite possibly really stupid move, IMHO. Given that the subpoena has been withdrawn, at the very least those submitting the request have seen their actions as something less than appropriate.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: Defamation? Maybe

If conspiracy theorists who claim that Sandy Hook was a hoax, which helped cause harassment of the victim’s families, of course this stuff is just as illegal under slander laws.

Same with the case where papers wrongfully plastered a couple of Muslim’s faces across the media as the Boston bombers, even if the police contradicted them.

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