May 212010
 May 21, 2010  Posted by  Court, Online

Angela Couloumbis and Amy Worden report that Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett’s motivation in trying to unmask two anonymous online critics, bfbarbie and CasablancaPA, might be that he thinks one of them is really someone who was convicted in Pennsylvania’s “bonusgate” political scandal:

Kevin Harley, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the subpoena had “nothing to do with limiting critics.” He said the office’s intent would become clear Friday morning, when Bonusgate defendant Brett Cott has been scheduled for sentencing.

Harley declined to elaborate, citing the secrecy of grand-jury proceedings. But a sentencing memorandum in Cott’s case, filed in Dauphin County Court, contained clues: Prosecutors from Corbett’s office argued that Cott, who was convicted in March on three of 42 corruption charges, is CasablancaPA.

Read more in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As a number of people quoted in the remainder of the news story point out, so what if Cott is CasablancaPA? Would Corbett stand protected speech on its head to get a slightly longer sentence for Cott, assuming he even is CasablancaPA? Once the bloggers’ anonymity is pierced, there is no unringing that bell. The court should squash the subpoena. Neither the courts nor the grand jury should be used — or in this case, misused — as a tool in a sentencing situation if it means weakening First Amendment protections for protected speech. And every Pennsylvanian who values the First Amendment should remember this action by gubernatorial candidate Corbett at election time.

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