Connecticut Court Orders Blogger To Turn Over Electronic Devices To Cop Suing Over Alleged Defamation By Blog's Commenters

from the all-the-wrong-that's-fit-to-issue-as-an-order dept

Things are getting dumber and way less constitutional in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Connecticut law enforcement officer. Lt. Vincent Benvenuto -- despite being the beneficiary of all the official and codified protection and forgiveness government workers only seem willing to give to other government employees -- sued a blogger, demanding the blogger hand over identifying information on commenters who offended the Lieutenant.

Commenters at the We the People Hartford blog -- run by Hartford resident Kevin Brookman -- made allegations that Benvenuto was a bad cop. The cop sued, and targeted the site's owner as if he was personally responsible for users' comments. The comments Benvenuto sued over said -- basically -- that Benvenuto was a cop.

While an officer with the New York Police Department, the comment read, Benvenuto “was racist so they kept him out of queens and Bronx.” Other comments accused the 12-year Hartford police veteran of sleeping on the job, leaking information and making racist and threatening comments.

Any cop accused of racism who decides to take litigious offense to that sort of heated rhetoric hasn't been paying attention. Or if they have been paying attention, they're too thin-skinned to be entrusted with the powers they've been granted. To be a cop is to hold an occupation long associated with bigotry and racism. Most law enforcement agencies can trace their origins back to being tasked with ensuring slave owners maintained control of their slaves. The years have passed, but most police activity still disproportionately targets minorities and provides support for the white status quo. So, to be accused of racism is pretty much inseparable from being accused of being a cop.

That summary of accusations by the Hartford Courant is the short version. The long version can be read in Benvenuto's lawsuit, which lists a whole bunch of presumed causes of action, but none that directly implicate the blog owner. All he did was run a blog. If commenters defamed Benvenuto, the cop is free to sue them directly. But he hasn't done that. He has brought the blog owner to court in hopes of forcing him to turn over information on commenters.

That lawsuit is a mess. Some of its runtime involves accusing commenters of violating Hartford PD policies, suggesting Benvenuto thinks coworkers who don't like him are complaining about him in the comment section of the blog. If so, this is something to be handled by the PD, not by litigation. And, also if so, this suggests Benvenuto is the racist jerkwad commenters allege him to be, because who would know better than the people who work with him?

Some really good questions have been raised by this litigation, but only by people who have covered the lawsuit, rather than the plaintiff or the judge. Unfuckingfortunately, the judge handling the case is apparently easily swayed by the pleadings of an unhappy cop who can't be bothered to direct his energy at the people who allegedly defamed him.

A Connecticut judge has ordered blogger Kevin Brookman — a frequent critic of the Hartford Police Department — to turn over his laptop and cellphone as part of a police lieutenant’s quest to identify and sue anonymous commenters who disparaged him on Brookman’s site.

No doubt this ridiculous and harmful order will be challenged. Almost undoubtedly, the next level in the state court system will return a What The Actual Fuck ruling that forbids the officer from taking possession of the blogger's electronic devices. But, for the time being, the order stands. And it stands as a blatant assault on First Amendment rights, as well as a complete rejection of longstanding Section 230 case law.

No shelter says the judge… because reasons.

“The accusation of racism is particularly offensive in the context of the Hartford Police department which must not only remain free from bias against its own members but also the public at large,” Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble wrote in his decision.

The accusation may be offensive but it's up to the PD to dissuade people that it's racist. Allowing an easily offended cop to commandeer the electronics of a person who did not actually make accusations of racism is a complete perversion of the judicial process. The court is not there to shield the police department for accusations of racism. It is there to determine whether there's any truth to these accusations -- and only when it actually has the accusers in court. All it has right now is the plaintiff and someone the plaintiff has decided to take legal action against, even though this person did not make these claims.

This is nothing more than the court giving someone with an immense amount of power even more power. And for what? To shield the officer and the department he works for from accusations from still-anonymous commenters that racism exists within the PD. This is a terrible ruling and it will only encourage other offended cops in the region to file baseless lawsuits targeting people who should be non-parties. And that's why it's unlikely to survive even the most cursory challenge.

Undoubtedly, it will be difficult for the officer to identify the people behind the supposedly defamatory contents. But that is the way it should be. Anonymous commenting should be protected and, indeed it is, especially in the context of criticizing government employees. Section 230 should make the blog owner immune from bullshit like this, but this has been all too conveniently ignored by the presiding judge -- one who apparently believes the only immunity worth awarding here is one shielding a cop shop from its critics.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, anonymity, anonymous comments, cesar noble, comments, connecticut, defamation, hartford, hartford pd, hartford police department, kevin brookman, section 230, vincent benvenuto


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:32am

    So you say

    Unfuckingfortunately, the judge handling the case is apparently easily swayed by the pleadings of an unhappy cop who can't be bothered to direct his energy at the people who allegedly defamed him.

    But then

    to turn over his laptop and cellphone as part of a police lieutenant’s quest to identify and sue anonymous commenters who disparaged him on Brookman’s site.

    So it seems like the cop, asshole though he is, is at the very least doing this because he’s trying to get information so he can actually do what Section 230 is supposed to get people to do: Sue the poster, not the hoster.

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

    • icon
      CSMcDonald (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:49am

      Re:

      So you're suggesting that the blog in question is being hosted on the defendant's laptop and cellphone and not a server in a data center somewhere? Interesting suggestion.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 3:23pm

      Re:

      He needs to subpoena the server data, not the personal devices though.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 9 Sep 2021 @ 4:08pm

      Re:

      How the fuck would he get this information from the guy's laptop and phone?

      The internet doesn't work the way you, the judge, or this dirty, racist cop thinks it does.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 10 Sep 2021 @ 1:13am

      Re:

      "he’s trying to get information"

      Is he really? If the commenters are anonymous, the only possible information the blogger can have about them is the IP address stored in the web server logs. How the fuck does the cop get that from the laptop and cellphone, neither of which have a possible use as a web server?

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

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 11 Sep 2021 @ 12:35am

      Re:

      So it seems like the cop, asshole though he is, is at the very least doing this because he’s trying to get intimidation

      ftfy

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:33am

    Why go after personal gear which probably does not have any information about postings to a server? Somebody is fishing for a cause of action against the blogger.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 3:54pm

      Re:

      they want the data on the computer! it wont have what they claim to be looking for. but will have his personal info. then they can pull some sneaky shit and get is bank account shut down, credit cards canceled, and any other shady shit they can think of!

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

  • icon
    TaboToka (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:37am

    OMG, out-of-touch olds try to work the webs

    FTFA:

    As part of the Aug. 26 order for forensic analysis of Brookman’s devices, Noble acknowledged that Brookman has already replaced the computer and cellphone he was using to run his watchdog site in 2019, when the alleged defamation was taking place.

    The judge has also heard testimony that neither Brookman nor Google, which hosts his blog, have the IP addresses of the commenters. However, a digital forensic expert for Benvenuto argued in court filings that Brookman’s new computer and phone could still help identify the people.

    Is that "forensic expert" part of CyberNinja?

    The blog is hosted on Blogger/Blogspot, which likely means all of the data in on Google's servers. I suppose these idiots think they can access that data magically if they have the guy's laptop and cell phone, but if he logs out of google from all his devices and changes the password, they're SOL.

    I swear to god these people are too stupid to do anything, except annoy folks unnecessarily.

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

  • icon
    Mark Gisleson (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 11:40am

    Democrat-appointed judge

    It should be noted that the judge was appointed by Democratic Governor Dan Malloy.

    Not criticizing this site, but it's rare for news media to tell us who appointed judges who make bad or controversial decisions. This is almost always helpful information when evaluating what's going on.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 12:08pm

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      This is almost always helpful information when evaluating what's going on.

      In what way? If the appointer has a habit of appointing judges whose rulings are regularly overturned, then sure ... but that is not helpful information about the judge, but instead about the appointer.

      Remember that the axes describing judges do not map all that well to political party of the appointer.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 12:53pm

      Was he also appointed by someone with hair?

      Which means bugger all unless say the democrats have a history of appointing terrible judges and you want to highlight that even more by pointing to this particular one.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 3:13pm

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      It should be noted that the judge was appointed by Democratic Governor Dan Malloy.

      Why?!? Political party has literally nothing to do with this story in any way whatsoever.

      Hell, we go out of our way to not even mention the political party of politicians unless the party is central to the story. In this case, there is no reason whatsoever to mention that at all, and in fact, it makes me wonder how the hell you could possibly think it matters?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 3:24pm

        Re: Re: Democrat-appointed judge

        it makes me wonder how the hell you could possibly think it matters?

        Just a guess, but it's probably: "Our team good, your team bad."

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

      • icon
        Mark Gisleson (profile), 10 Sep 2021 @ 7:06am

        Re: Re: Democrat-appointed judge

        Much of the news media makes a big thing about Republican judges. Read any story about the Texas lege and the six-week limit on abortion, and you'll see mentions of who appointed which judge.

        The Democrats have an equally abysmal record of making very political choices when picking judges. Pro-choice much of the time (but they are not as rigid as the GOP's choices which is why Roe v Wade is now under fire), but Democrats are rigidly consistent in picking judges who will side with authority figures whether they be in law enforcement, copyright or any area of conflict between property and nonwealthy individuals.

        This judge made a horrendous decision and sided with a cop when there was no legal foundation for doing so. He was appointed by an authoritarian Democrat. Dan Malloy was an asst D.A. in Brooklyn for four years. It's now reasonable to wonder about his relationship with law enforcement.

        And that's why I think media should always mention who appointed controversial judges. Now that you know a former prosecutor named this judge, you might see this problem as being bigger than just the judge. Connecticut may have lots of judges like him thanks to Dan Malloy. I don't know this, but if I lived in Connecticut I'm sure I'd be following Malloy's judges much more closely.

        I've worked in politics and Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble didn't just fall off an apple tree. This decision surprised no one who had vetted him for his judgeship. A former prosecutor appoints a pro-police judge and I think the political parties should be mentioned. Not to mention how the overt politics involved props up our phony duopoly. Both parties stink when it comes to appointing fair-minded judges. Supreme Court justices picked by Clinton and Obama have been reliably pro-Wall Street. Etc., but mostly I'm just asking you label the players. In this case you didn't even bother to cite the judge's name despite his central role in making this case newsworthy.

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 9 Sep 2021 @ 4:11pm

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      This would only matter to someone who defines himself and all other people based on partisanship, which is fucking dumb. Both parties turn out bad judges, bad voters, and bad politcians. Wow, shocking!!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 4:32pm

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      "This is almost always helpful information when evaluating what's going on."

      Who the fuck appointed you bro?

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

    • icon
      JMT (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 4:48pm

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      "This is almost always helpful information when evaluating what's going on."

      This is almost always helpful in letting me jump to conclusions based on the pre-conceived notion that my "team" is always right!

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 10 Sep 2021 @ 1:23am

      Re: Democrat-appointed judge

      It's useful when you're a partisan hack who's barely containing himself when it turns out they finally have another thing to attack the opposing "team" with. The rest of use are capable of addressing the issues on their merits.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 12:58pm

    'How dare they express opinions that he disagrees with!'

    “The accusation of racism is particularly offensive in the context of the Hartford Police department which must not only remain free from bias against its own members but also the public at large,” Superior Court Judge Cesar Noble wrote in his decision.

    If the shoe fits... You know what you do to counter accusations of racism? Demand that those making the accusations point to examples to show your racism and in the meantime you show by your words and actions that the accusations are absurd and the ones making them are just lying about you.

    What you don't do is flip the hell out and demand that the owner of the blog where people accused you of racism hand over his gorram laptop as though the accusations were inside the house/laptop all along, as whether you're a racist or not 'vindictive, stupid and thin-skinned goon' starts to become a highly applicable label at that point.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2021 @ 12:59pm

    As mentioned a bit in the comments previously - what the hell do the blogger's personal devices have to do with identifying people who posted the supposedly defamatory things?

    The plaintiff, his lawyer, and the judge are being stupid and/or malicious here. This is another part of chilling speech - not just the cost of litigation, but "we'll fuck with your stuff".

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

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 2:21pm

    Keeping slaves under control of their owners

    US history is lousy of schemes to perpetuate peonage despite the abolition of slavery and the slave status proper.

    Are we sure the point of a court system is to detect the truth. I'd argue based on its behavior and preferential treatment of law enforcement over common civilians (and whites over non-whites) that the function of the courts is to preserve the status quo of the white landowner ethnostate.

    It might claim that it seeks the truth, but its behavior and adjudications such as this one tell us differently.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Sep 2021 @ 7:21pm

    That thing about when they blow a clear 1st Amendment Ruling we send them off to a farm to run & play all day and not allow them to sit in judgement any longer.

    It is nice to see a Judge willing to grand stand in such a way, making sure that anyone who has information will think twice about contacting anyone who might listen and share the information.
    I'm guessing this is one of those times if we had a functioning Federal Government that someone might launch an investigation into how deep the corruption actually runs in this town.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 10 Sep 2021 @ 2:30am

    The Internet's Prayer, for Lt Benvenuto

    Streisand Effect, who are the internet, True be thy name.
    From Techdirt come, Thy reputation done, on Twitter as it is on Youtube.
    Give us our daily facepalms, and forgive us our chuckles, as we silently laugh at those who litigate unfaithfully, And lead us not down their path but deliver us our wisdom and knowledge. Amen.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2021 @ 7:41am

    If so convinced it's his coworkers, why isn't he suing them and seizing their electronics for text searches?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2021 @ 8:01am

    Its about sending a message

    Its already a win for the cop. Even if he loses the appeal. A whole bunch of people are now wondering if they are going to get outed and will think twice next time.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2021 @ 9:06pm

    Noble worked at Tomasiewicz firm

    Tomasiewicz used to employ Noble.

    https://www.ftlawct.com/the-firm/

    The firm is honored that three former employees have gone on to be appointed by the Governor for the State of Connecticut as Superior Court judges: The Honorable Claudia A. Baio, The Honorable Kevin G. Dubay, and The Honorable Cesar A. Noble.

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

  • icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 13 Sep 2021 @ 12:46pm

    WTF?

    Look, he has the right to sue. And that right to protect one’s person as an image should be respected.

    But WTAF?
    This is the same stupidity of the MegaUpload case. hand over the drives?

    You’re assuming the blog is run from a personal device and not a host? You’re assuming the device has logs.
    And you’re assuming that anything “found” out of context can be used as evidence.

    And then there’s the whole issue of one side having evidence and the other not. At some point… we just :facepalm:.

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


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