Rhode Island Judge Pokes Free Speech on Facebook

Restraints on speech prior to publication are almost never OK. It wasn't OK in the 1930s when Minnesota tried to enjoin the publication of an anti-Semitic newspaper. It wasn't even OK in the 1970s when the U.S. government tried to prevent The New York Times and The Washington Post from publishing the top-secret Pentagon Papers. But a Rhode Island Family Court judge recently thought it would be OK to stop a woman from commenting online about a child custody proceeding that she's not a party to. 

The Newsroom Law Blog reports that Judge Michael Forte of Kent County Family Court enjoined Michelle Langlois from posting on the Internet any information about her brother's ongoing custody dispute with his ex-wife. The gag order came after the ex-wife filed a "domestic abuse" petition against Langlois. The petition claimed that Langlois' posts on her Facebook page constituted harassment and might psychologically damage the children involved in the case.

Langlois said her comments were meant merely to bring attention to her brother's "plight," and the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union jumped to defend her constitutional rights. The ACLU filed a motion to dismiss the order, and the court scheduled a hearing on the matter for Wednesday (7/29). But the case came to a rather anti-climactic end Tuesday when the ex-wife voluntarily dismissed her petition against Langlois, rendering the judge's order moot. Too bad — I was really looking forward to seeing Forte amend his order to say "J/K LOLZ!!" at the end.      

(Courtney French is a rising second-year law student at Georgetown University and a CMLP legal intern.)


Subject Area: 


The Internet as the Special Realm

So Courtney, do you think that judges just think of Facebook/ MySpace communication as deserving extra scrutiny but less protection?

We've see judges increase the punishment for offenses committed through the interwebz; Wong-Fernandez case comes to mind. Now we have a judge basically saying the First Amendment doesn't apply to cyberspace.

I agree its too bad this didn't survive to be reversed.