Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Outrageous Censorship of Blogger in Berkshire County

A District Court judge in Pittsfield, Mass., that makes a travesty of the First Amendment. Last Thursday, Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega ordered blogger Dan Valenti to remove from his blog Planet Valenti all references to Meredith Nilan, a Pittsfield-area woman who had faced criminal charges related to a car accident last year that seriously injured a pedestrian out walking his dog. 

The judge's order directed Valenti "to remove any and all information referring to the Plaintiff from any and all websites, blogs, etc." 

Reporter Andrew Amelinckx has the full story in The Berkshire Eagle. Valenti later complied with the order and removed all references to Nilan from his blog, Amelinckx reports. An editorial yesterday in The Berkshire Eagle said this incident "should concern anyone who takes the First Amendment seriously." 

The blog Popehat points out another angle of this story. Nilan, the woman who took out the harassment complaint, is the daughter of Clifford J. Nilan, chief probation officer of the Berkshire Superior Court. 

Nilan's affidavit in support of her request for a harassment prevention order alleged that Valenti "began a regular and malicious attack on my reputation, including and not limited to publishing on his website, www.planetvalenti.com, lies and innuendo regarding a traffic accident from December 2011." 

From what I've seen of them, Valenti's posts focused on his belief that the prosecution of the criminal case against Nilan was mishandled and was a "travesty of justice." He lays out his take on the case against Nilan and explains why he believes it was botched. 

This is precisely the kind of writing that the First Amendment protects from censorship and prior restraint. If Nilan believes she has been defamed, then her remedy is to sue Valenti for libel, not to ask a judge to shut him down. 

The judge has scheduled a follow-up hearing for Monday, July 9, when she will decide whether to continue the harassment order in effect. Let's hope cooler heads -- and the First Amendment -- prevail.