Law School Trustee's Company Chills Critical Speech With Subpoena For Students' Personal Emails

from the this-isn't-about-you-but-please-give-us-your-emails dept

A New York University trustee has found a way to chill speech critical of him and the companies he owns: subpoena the personal emails of two particularly outspoken opponents.

A New York University Law trustee's company wants two students to hand over their personal emails after they circulated a letter criticizing him, according to a subpoena.

The law students, second-year Luke Herrine and first-year Leo Gertner, were targeted after they helped circulate a letter denouncing NYU Law School trustee Daniel Straus, who owns Care One Management, a home health aide and nursing home company embroiled in a labor dispute.
The two students started a petition asking for the removal of Straus from the Board of Trustees, pointing out that a law school should probably be associated with someone who respects the law, something Straus' companies seem to have trouble doing. His two companies, CareOne and HealthBridge Management, have been cited at least 38 times by the National Labor Relations Board for violating federal labor laws. In addition, HealthBridge was held in contempt of court for refusing to allow 600 workers to return to their jobs at their pre-strike pay levels.

CareOne's current legal battle with a local labor union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), something that has dragged on for years at this point, has seemingly turned into a convenient way for Straus to get back at his critics. Of course, CareOne claims otherwise.
CareOne spokesperson Deborah Maxson said the deadline for the requested information is April 25.

“Straus is not a party to the lawsuit and is not managing the litigation,” Maxson said.
Straus may not be a party to this lawsuit, but these are his companies, and there can be very little doubt that Straus would prefer the ongoing criticism of his business efforts be halted. If CareOne wants to use the excuse that Straus isn't a "party" to this lawsuit, then it needs to extend that same courtesy to the two students, who also aren't a "party" to the ongoing legal fight.

Then there's the content sought by the subpoenas. This, too, mentions Straus directly, even as CareOne claims this has nothing to do with him. According to a letter sent by the Board of Trustees to NYU administration, this is what CareOne is hoping to obtain:
“The subpoenas requested information regarding any contact the students may have had with SEIU and any activity they may have engaged in, such as protests or meetings, relating to Mr. Straus or CareOne...”
If Straus isn't "party" to this lawsuit, why does CareOne need information relating to Straus? Beyond that, the information requested bears all the hallmarks of trying to use the power of the court to silence free speech. Protests and meetings, both activities covered by the First Amendment, are mentioned specifically by the subpoena.

For what it's worth, NYU has stepped up and has provided the students with the pro bono help of one of the school's lawyers. It also issued a very carefully-worded defense of the students, no doubt mindful of Straus' $1.25 million annual endowment.
“The Law School is not a party to the litigation between Care One and SEIU, and will remain uninvolved in it," the school wrote in a statement to DNAinfo New York sent Thursday. "We vigorously support the right of our students to express their views and to organize and participate in lawful demonstrations and other protest activity, at the same time that we acknowledge that parties to litigation are permitted, subject to applicable rules and judicial oversight, to gather evidence in support of their case."
Further statements reiterated NYU's support for its students' rights but also noted it considered Straus to be an "upright and honorable person."

That said, it seems that there is a clear -- and somewhat massive -- conflict of interest for Straus to remain on the board of trustees at NYU Law at the same time he's using the legal process to demand the email contents from two of its students.

As is noted by the students' new petition demanding the withdrawal of the subpoenas, this sort of activity, undertaken by a "victim" of criticism, will discourage others from approaching anything remotely controversial.
Forcing students to turn over emails and other private communications in litigation that does not concern them can chill free speech on campus and make students think twice about raising their voice about controversial issues. This is antithetical to NYU's mission of open academic inquiry and commitment to the public interest.
Rather than address these concerns, Straus is allowing (or directing) his company to shut down his critics by seeking personal communications from non-party NYU students. Straus also has additional leverage with the university should this fail to keep future criticism at bay. Of course, there's always a chance NYU will side with the students and decide that Straus' companies don't really reflect the culture it's trying to instill in its students. But until this all plays out, we're just witnessing the sort of tactics deployed by entities who would rather shut people up than address their concerns.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 12:25pm

    Short term vs. Long term

    $1.25 million is a pretty hefty sum, but what they should be thinking of is how many potential students they could lose if they get a reputation of leaving them out to dry as soon as it becomes expedient.

    Money's nice, but a solid reputation is all but priceless, and once it's gone, incredibly hard to get back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    TimK (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Short term vs. Long term

    Actually, for a university, $1.25 million isn't a hefty sum. NYU's total endowment is worth approximately $3 BILLION. It is in the school's best interest to tell Strauss and his money to hit the road.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Christenson, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 1:29pm

    Where's the petition to help the Streisand effect???

    That is, this clown *needs* to be removed from a position of power over a law school. Maybe indicted and jailed, too. Where do I sign the petition?

    And providing the students with counsel, pro bono? Uh, again, there's a *MASSIVE* conflict of interest there, and sanctions should issue to the lawyers involved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Geno0wl (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 1:38pm

    Exactly what legal reasoning are they using to Subpoena the e-mails?
    If they have nothing to do with the case I fail to see how a judge wouldn't throw this out on its face value...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 1:51pm


    Likely the NSA's favorite excuse of 'Well something in there might be relevant, at some point, so we'd like to grab it all just to be sure'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re: Short term vs. Long term

    w-e-l-l, that is assuming they are actually interested in 'higher education', truth, justice, fairness, and the 'merikan way ! ! !
    just read an interesting article that -spoiler alert!- it is not just our public grade schools which are being run into the ground with the test regime idiocy (in case you don't know: running the public school system into the ground IS THE PURPOSE of all this testing bullshit and teacher bashing), but colleges/universities are being crushed from all sides...

    guess whose line they have to toe to 'make it right' ? ? ?
    the korporadoes...

    straus is just part of the overall program, kampers...
    WE'RE the idiots, still expecting that this conglomeration of people and land is supposed to be anything but a means of rich people getting our last pfennig...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Christenson, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 2:26pm

    Linky please?

    Not that I disagree..but I *STILL* need to see the evidence!
    So kindly link to your interesting article, thanks! feels the same way, by the way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 3:31pm


    From the article linked:

    It's the latest salvo in a lawsuit by Straus' company, which has been locked in a complex, yearslong legal battle with local labor union SEIU 1199. CareOne sued SEIU 1199 in 2012 and accused it of manipulating NYU students in a bid to kick Straus out of his leadership position at the school.

    Basically it seems they're demanding the students emails on the theory that the union they're fighting asked the students to start the petition to remove Straus. Therefore they're demanding the emails on the theory that the emails would contain proof that the union is behind the attempt to remove Stras from his trustee position for his treatment of his employees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    alternatives(), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 3:39pm

    See, the problem is the Law Students here.

    These people somehow think that being a Lawyer is about support for the Law.

    Once they get past this misconception things will go better for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    KRA, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 3:53pm

    The "justice system" needs a new name, to better reflect its real-world function. I think that The Thug Enabling System: Where the rich get their way has a nice ring to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    avoid law school, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Short term vs. Long term

    Law school is a scam!!!!! DO NOT go unless $200,000+ in non-dischargeable student loan debt, no job, and living in your parents' basement is your idea of fun. It's a scam set up to make law administrators and professors wealthy off your federal government loans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Re: Short term vs. Long term

    Not to mention the fact that you might become a lawyer. Even worse, that's the best case scenario!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 5:06pm


    Ah, common mistake, it's actually the 'injustice system', it's just the 'in' part is silent when you say it, so most people forget it's there when they're typing it out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    G Thompson (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 5:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Short term vs. Long term

    *stares at you*

    then thinks a bit


    dammit!!!! You're correct ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 6:32pm

    Re: Linky please?

    just saw your request, i will look for the article after i get done with some work; unfortunately, i'm not sure about tracking it down, since i skip around so many sites, i often forget where/when/who i saw a particular article...
    i think this had to do with an 'adjunct' prof who was essentially harassed over nothing because he was a union rep, or spoke out of turn at some university meetings or such...
    then, they went on to explain how the whole adjunct prof racket was part-and-parcel of the whole system being debased to serve the needs of korporations, and how the whole 'academic freedom' was a crock, because EVERYONE -tenured or not- is AFRAID to rock the boat...
    i'll try to track it down...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Apr 21st, 2014 @ 6:34pm

    Re: Re: Linky please?

    wtf ? post says 6:32 pm, but it is 9:32 pm ? ? ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 21st, 2014 @ 9:31pm


    We don't have a justice system, we have a legal system.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Gaming_Geek (profile), Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 10:34am

    Hopefully these students win this fight, but with how things go nowadays, I do worry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Malvolio, Apr 22nd, 2014 @ 7:04pm

    Exactly what legal reasoning are they using to Subpoena the e-mails?
    I don't have any information about this, but I would guess CareOne is claiming some sort of illegal collusion between SEIU and the two law students.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Wat, Apr 24th, 2014 @ 8:36am

    Re: See, the problem is the Law Students here.

    This makes no sense at all. The problem is with that Straus idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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