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Defrocked Rabbi Must Pay Anonymous Bloggers’ Attorney Fees

Oct. 12, 2006

Defrocked Rabbi Must Pay Anonymous Bloggers’ Attorney Fees

Judge Says Rabbi’s Petition to Disclose Bloggers Was Brought Without Basis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A California Superior Court judge ruled today that a rabbi’s petition to disclose the identities of anonymous bloggers who wrote on the Internet about his alleged sexual misconduct was brought without basis and that the rabbi must pay the bloggers’ attorney fees incurred in protecting their anonymity.

Orthodox rabbi Mordechai Tendler, who served a congregation in New Hempstead, N.Y., was accused of sexual abuse and harassment by some of the women whom he had been advising. The controversy garnered much mainstream media attention when Tendler was expelled from the Rabbinical Council of America in March 2005, was sued by one of his accusers in December 2005 and was dismissed from his rabbinical post by his congregation in 2006.

Many blogs also covered the investigation of Tendler’s alleged misconduct. In an effort to fight back against the accusations, Tendler has sought to reveal the identities of four bloggers who anonymously wrote about his case on the following Blogspot sites: www.rabbinicintegrity.blogspot.comwww.jewishsurvivors.blogspot.comwww.jewishwhistleblower.blogspot.com and www.newhempsteadnews.blogspot.com.

Tendler filed a petition in February 2006 in Ohio to identify three of the bloggers, stating that he had been the subject of false and defamatory statements but identifying no particular statements and no evidence that the postings were false, a requirement to prove defamation. After the Ohio court granted his petition, Tendler filed a new case in San Jose, Calif., to obtain enforceable subpoenas directed to Google, which operates Blogspot, compelling it to disclose information identifying four bloggers.

However, Public Citizen agreed to represent the three bloggers who had been originally sued and filed a special motion to strike the California case under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute. In an apparent attempt to evade the statute, Tendler withdrew the subpoenas, dismissed the case and dismissed his attorneys. Today’s ruling by Judge Neal A. Cabrinha of the California Superior Court for Santa Clara County rejected those maneuvers and held that Tendler is responsible for the bloggers’ attorney fees.

“The right to criticize anonymously on the Internet is a fundamental free speech right and an important tool for whistleblowers and consumers who speak out about the misconduct or corruption of big companies or public figures,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney who filed the motion. “Those who want to intimidate their critics with the threat of identification, but who have no real basis for suing, should learn from this case that they cannot file suit and then expect to withdraw if the critics are ready to fight back. Companies and powerful individuals who try this trick should be prepared for the financial consequences.”

Corynne McSherry of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation serves as local counsel for Public Citizen. To view the motions, click here and here. The SLAPP ruling can be viewed here.

Public Citizen has a strong record of defending the First Amendment rights of Internet users. To learn more, click here.