Judge Quashes Subpoena to Blogger Kathleen Seidel, Orders Lawyer to Explain Justification for Subpoena

A federal magistrate judge in New Hampshire has quashed the subpoena issued to Kathleen Seidel. Seidel publishes the blog Neurodiversity, where she writes about autism issues. In February 2008, she wrote about a lawsuit against various vaccine manufacturers, Sykes v. Bayer, in which the plaintiffs Lisa and Seth Sykes seek to link exposure to mercury to their son's autism. (For more on her statements about the lawsuit, see my previous post: Blogger Kathleen Seidel Fights Subpoena Seeking Information About Vaccine Litigation.)

On March 24, 2008, Clifford Shoemaker, an attorney for the Sykes, served Seidel with a subpoena in connection with the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit. The subpoena demanded that Seidel appear for a deposition on April 30, 2008, and that she produce a shockingly broad collection of information, including her bank statements, tax returns, communications with religious organizations, and personal correspondence with other bloggers.

On April 21, magistrate judge Muirhead granted Seidel's well argued motion to quash the subpoena. In so doing, the judge also ordered Shoemaker

to show cause within 10 days why he should not be sanctioned under Fed R Civ P 11 – see Fed R Civ P 45(a)(2)(B) which requires that a deposition subpoena be issued from the court in which the deposition is to occur and Fed R Civ P 45 (c)(1) commanding counsel to avoid burdensome subpoenas. A failure to appear will result in notification of Mr Shoemaker’s conduct to the Presiding Judge in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Shoemaker will have a difficult time explaining why the subpoena he issued is justified, as it demands the disclosure of documents that appear to have no relevance to the Sykes litigation. Instead, it is rather obvious that the subpoena was intended to coerce a critic of his clients to "shut up."

The use of unjustified legal threats should never be allowed to silence speech. We all lose when we allow that to happen.

(You can follow further developments in the case in our Legal Threats Database entry: Sykes v. Seidel.)


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