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Blogger Subpoenaed for Criticizing Trial Lawyers 500

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the lookin-for-a-free-ride dept.
Cutie Pi writes "Katherine Seidel, mother of an autistic child and an avid blogger has been subpoenaed for her "family's bank records, tax returns, autism-related medical and educational records, and every communication concerning all of the issues to which [she] has devoted [her] attention and energy in recent years." The lawyer in question is representing a mother who is suing Bayer for $20M with the claim that mercury in their vaccines caused her child's autism. In her blog Seidel has spoken out against lawyers trying to cash in on thimerosal lawsuits, noting that the thimerosal-autism link has been debunked in several studies. But Seidel herself has had no direct involvement in the lawsuit."
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Blogger Subpoenaed for Criticizing Trial Lawyers

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  • by dosius (230542) <bridget@buric.co> on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:24PM (#23039874) Journal
    ...this lawyer sounds like a Scientologist.

    *HIDES*
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:24PM (#23039878) Journal
    These people are angry and want something to take their frustrations out on. The fact that no studies provide any evidence of a link between the vaccines and autism is an minor inconvenience to be ignored!

    Scumbag lawyers, shoddy science, willfully ignorant and upset parents - it's a perfect combination.

    • by Naughty Bob (1004174) * on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:32PM (#23039968)
      The guy who started all of this, Andrew Wakefield, now practices in the US, having been effectively kicked out of the UK medical scene.

      He is clearly addicted to the idea of being a superstar doctor, and doesn't mind how many hopes, dreams and desperate parents he abuses along the way.

      As science becomes debased in popular culture, by everything from homeopathy to astrology to religion, tragedies like this one will be the consequence.

      We geeks need to get out of the basement and put our collective intelligence to work.
      • by smooth wombat (796938) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:52PM (#23040218) Homepage Journal
        We geeks need to get out of the basement and put our collective intelligence to work.


        But the light is so bright!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by josteos (455905)

        We geeks need to get out of the basement and put our collective intelligence to work.
        I want to help, but Mommy won't unlock the door!
    • by eln (21727) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:44PM (#23040116) Homepage
      It's even worse than that. The anti-vaccine movement operates much like a cult. It takes people who are in a situation where they feel isolated, helpless, and angry, and they give these people a strong support community that will not only alleviate their feelings of isolation and helplessness, but give them a boogeyman to lash out at. Once someone is in a community like this, they will continue to fight for the cause no matter how much evidence is stacked against them.

      It's really sad, because these people are risking allowing some truly horrible and often fatal diseases to come back decades after they were virtually wiped out. I'd much rather have a minuscule and totally unproven chance of a few kids getting autism, which is not fatal, than have a virtual certainty of thousands of kids getting fatal and/or permanently disfiguring diseases like pertussis or polio.
    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:28PM (#23040704) Journal
      Economics blogger Megan McArdle had a great post about this recently which elaborates on just how dangerous the anti-vaccination craze is:

      http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/03/correlation_causation_vaccinat.php [theatlantic.com]

      The anti-vaccination websites sustain their belief by systematically excluding anyone offering counterevidence from the domain of acceptable sources. Pharma studies can't be trusted because they have a profit motive. The CDC is in hock to big business. The "medical establishment" wants to make money giving your children unnecessary shots. In fact, the only person you can trust is the guy writing the website.

      This is the sure sign of a crank. It is possible that all these people are wrong--science has had much more spectacular failures in the face of clear evidence. But there is no such thing as a multi-million person conspiracy. ...

      Looking for those links is entirely natural. But fingering vaccines has real and terrible consequences. Millions of children die worldwide every year from childhood diseases that we've eliminated here through vaccination. Now, because these websites are frightening people about vaccination, we're seeing a resurgence of those diseases. People are dying from them again, and others are being left with permanent health impairment. Leaving children unvaccinated means going back to

              * Leg braces and iron lungs for people with polio (57,628 cases in 1952)
              * Encephalitis and sterility for people with mumps (200,000 cases a year in the 1960s)
              * Congenital rubella syndrome for children whose mothers contracted the illness during pregnancy.
              * Blindness, pneumonia, encephalitis, and death--one per thousand--for people with measles (nearly 1 million cases a year in the US before vaccines).
              * Encephalitis and pulmonary hypertension for people with whooping cough--thanks to people who don't vaccinate their kids, in 2001, 17 people, mostly infants, died of pertussis (200,000 cases in 1940).
              * Cardiac arrest and paralysis for people with diptheria (207,000 cases and about 15,000 deaths in 1920).

      The vaccines scare us because the diseases don't. And they don't because of the vaccines.
      • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:45PM (#23041582)

        >The vaccines scare us because the diseases don't. And they don't because of the vaccines.

        Right you are! I am old enough to remember the polio epidemics in the summer and being scared shitless of winding up in an iron lung. Swimming pools and libraries got closed and people were afraid to go to the ballgame. These Luddites should go live in Afghanistan or The Sudan with their like-minded brethren.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Chris Burke (6130)
          Right you are! I am old enough to remember the polio epidemics in the summer and being scared shitless of winding up in an iron lung. Swimming pools and libraries got closed and people were afraid to go to the ballgame. These Luddites should go live in Afghanistan or The Sudan with their like-minded brethren.

          I really don't know what my problem is. I'm not even close to being old enough to remember polio epidemics, I only know of polio via the history books I was forced to read in school. And yet, despite
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fm6 (162816)
      You're correct, but that's another issue. What matters here is not the merits of the lawsuit. It's the ability of plaintiff's lawyer to drag in a blogger who's only relationship to the suit is that she's spoken out against it. That would be disturbing even if the case had obvious merit.

      I just read her motion to quash the supoena, and it has a very interesting claim: there's no indication if it was every approved by a judge. If that's the case, you have to wonder what stupid games this lawyer is playing.
  • by R1Lawrence (1271570) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:26PM (#23039890)
    This is the worst of what our legal system allows. Now this woman is forced to hire an attorney just to defend her right to free speech. It makes me sick!
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      She's being subpoenaed, not sued. To be subpoenaed means that you have to turn over records or give testimony. She's not a party to the lawsuit. She doesn't have to pay any money or change any of her postings.

      Don't get me wrong -- it's still a pain in the butt and it's wrong and probably an abuse of the legal system. But her freedom of speech isn't at risk. She could respond by just giving the documents requested. She shouldn't have to do so, but her speech is in no way at risk.

      Non-party witnesses get
      • by cprael (215426) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:52PM (#23040214)
        She's been given three weeks, give or take, to review virtually every electronic communication or posting, or scrap of paper, that has passed through her life in the last 4 years, and package it _all_ to take the deposition. She isn't even being offered a witness fee.

        It is not "probably" an abuse of the legal system. It is one. It is also overly intrusive, and has a number of other "defects".

        The last time I saw a subpeona like this, the lawyer quickly backed down, because he realized we were going to ask for sanctions for abuse of process as soon as we walked into the courthouse.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Sure, fair enough. But the great-grandparent hinted that she was being sued, which is a very different proposition. Being sued would be completely unconscionable.

          Third-party witnesses get subpoenaed all the time. From here, it sure looks like this subpoena is abusive. But I can imagine other contexts (where she had secret documents from the PharmaCos related to the case or something) where it'd be reasonable. THIS subpoena looks abusive and I'd hope that the court looks at sanctions closely. But, not
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by cprael (215426)
            Well, I didn't see anything that said "sued". The article title says "subpeonaed", as does the linked article.

            And yes, third-party witnesses get subpeonaed all the time. They're generally given notice that they'll be subpeonaed, given adequate time to prepare, and more.

            And, without any documentation/etc., there's no particular reason to presume that she's got secret documents or anything else related to the case.

            So, no, not all third party subpeonas are evil. But a surprising number are just plain _stupid_.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by smellsofbikes (890263)
          I was in a somewhat similar situation, although I was directly involved in the lawsuit. I was asked to submit to the deposition all online writing I'd done in the last 6 years. As I recall, I asked for an extension after delivering 1500 printed pages from one blog and telling my and the opposing council that those 1500 pages represented well less than 10% of what I'd written over that period. (I'm verbose.) They quickly restricted what, exactly, they were requesting, to strictly what was relevant to the
      • by Bogtha (906264) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:58PM (#23040294)

        Don't get me wrong -- it's still a pain in the butt and it's wrong and probably an abuse of the legal system. But her freedom of speech isn't at risk. She could respond by just giving the documents requested. She shouldn't have to do so, but her speech is in no way at risk.

        It's called a chilling effect [wikipedia.org]. If this is upheld, it will send the message that if you criticise pseudo-science, you are in danger of being dragged before a court and having all your personal details examined for no good reason. It's an undue burden on speech that many people will not be willing to take just to speak out against some kooks.

      • by dubl-u (51156) * <2523987012@pota . t o> on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:05PM (#23040384)

        But her freedom of speech isn't at risk.
        I disagree totally. Yes, they are not asking for her web site to be closed down. But did you actually read the subpoena [neurodiversity.com]?

        They want her bank statements, her canceled checks, her tax returns, and any documents even vaguely related to any issue covered on her web site, including correspondence with her physicians, attorneys, and any member of the government. Imagine how you would feel about giving the last seven years of your correspondence and financial records over to a hostile party.

        And, of course, they want the right to grill her about anything related to any of that, while she pays a couple hundred bucks an hour in legal fees. And for why? Because she has blogged critically about them.

        That doesn't just have an effect on her right to free speech. It has an chilling effect [wikipedia.org] on every blogger who sees themselves as a citizen journalist. Anybody who wants to blog about something important -- or even read blogs like that -- should oppose legal harassment like this.
      • This does put her free speech at risk. That is not necessarily through a process that would order her to stop. Instead, this is a case of harassment and invasion of privacy as a result of her having exercised her free speech rights. It may well be an attempt by Mr. Shoemaker to discourage her from speaking. She, or someone else considering speaking on these matters, may be discouraged from doing so for fear of the costs and invasion of privacy due to such a subpoena.

        If Mr. Shoemaker had believed she ha

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sm62704 (957197)
        But her freedom of speech isn't at risk

        Yes it is. Freedom of speech also is the freedom to NOT speak.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Surt (22457)

      This is the worst of what our legal system allows. Now this woman is forced to hire an attorney just to defend her right to free speech. It makes me sick!
      This is not what she is doing. Her right to free speech is not being interfered with. In fact, what the lawyer in question seems to be seeking is the documentation on which her free speech is based, so if anything this might be closer to a press shield law issue.
      • by joseph449008 (1121209) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:56PM (#23040274)
        Except that all the information Kathleen posts is supported by publicly available information, and Mr. Shoemaker no doubt knows this. The subpoena was issued 4 hours after Kathleen posted information about the money Shoemaker makes by losing vaccine injury cases. See her motion to quash [neurodiversity.com]. Make no mistake, some people would like to silence Kathleen and at the same time indulge their delusions that she's part of an government/pharma/illuminati conspiracy. What has happened is clearly a threat to freedom of speech. Imagine if lawyers could just issue subpoenas if they see an opinion on the web they don't like.
      • by Chas (5144) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:48PM (#23040986) Homepage Journal

        Her right to free speech is not being interfered with

        The hell it isn't. [wikipedia.org]

        • Blogger: Blah blah something inconventient blah
        • Lawyer: I don't want you to say that
        • Blogger: Sorry. It's protected speech.
        • Lawyer: I'll give you something else to do then. Bring out all records since the second you were born, package them up, and come all the way out to me so that I can verbally harass you. That should keep you so busy that you don't have time to say stuff I find inconvenient. It should also keep you so busy that you can't actually do anything else with your life (like work, take care of your kids, etc) either.


        It's not about denying someone their rights.

        It's about exerting social influence on them to distract/prevent them from exercising those rights.

        And, failing that, it's about creating pain points when one decides to exercise those rights. Like electroshock therapy. Sure, nothing's STOPPING you from doing "Activity A", but if you get a painful jolt every time you do "Activity A", you'll soon find that you either reduce or completely stop doing "Activity A".

  • by techpawn (969834) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:29PM (#23039930) Journal
    I thought it was Spring! What's that chilling effect in the air I feel?
  • Lawyers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by njmarine2001 (946297) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:29PM (#23039934)
    Practicing the finest abuses of perceived power man has ever known.
  • Blinded by the light (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:33PM (#23039982)
    It's incredible the amount of unsubstantiated credence that some parents of autistic children will give to the thimerosal hypothesis. For example, Jenny McCarthy (who has an autistic child, and I have sympathy for her since it can't be easy) was on Larry King Live the other day, sititng next to someone who was there to debunk the supposed link between autism and thimerosal. His arguments were grounded in science, but she would not be moved, and she was extremely animated and emotional over any suggestion that thimerosal isn't to blame.

    I suppose, in some sense, that it's like telling her that her religion is wrong.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wattrlz (1162603)
      There's also the issue that if she can't blame someone else the only obvious alternative is to blame herself. Something few people would willingly face the possibility of doing.
      • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:56PM (#23040260)
        There's also the issue that if she can't blame someone else the only obvious alternative is to blame herself. Something few people would willingly face the possibility of doing.

        I find it difficult to believe that the parent of an autistic child is to be "blamed." At this stage in the game, no one knows what causes autism so it is too early to asses blame.

        • by wattrlz (1162603) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:17PM (#23040540)

          There's also the issue that if she can't blame someone else the only obvious alternative is to blame herself. Something few people would willingly face the possibility of doing. I find it difficult to believe that the parent of an autistic child is to be "blamed." At this stage in the game, no one knows what causes autism so it is too early to asses blame.
          When something tragic happens it's a natural human response to try and assign blame. It doesn't have to make sense. It might not even be conscious, but people like to have reasons for things.
    • by Oxy the moron (770724) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:48PM (#23040162)

      As a father of an autistic child, I can totally understand an emotional and illogical response to the suggestion of a Thimerosal/autism link. Believe me, at first it had me somewhat enraged as well. In light of some other drugs that have come under fire in past years for either under-delivering on promises or outright harming people that take them, it only makes sense that some people are going to look at a statement like that and say "Oh, look, something *else* the FDA missed!"

      The problem is most people nowadays seem to either 1) lack the capacity to think for themselves (either mentally or as a result of time constraints, etc.) 2) lack the desire to think for themselves. After all, why bother doing that when someone else has already done it for me?

      I also think that both sides are sitting too much in the area of absolutes. It seems that most scientists insist that *every* vaccine is safe for *every* child, and the inverse is true for those who think Thimerosal causes autism. Obviously, just the mere presence of Thimerosal doesn't cause autism, because if it did we'd all be autistic. But at the same time, I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that the large number of vaccines that are administered at once nowadays, along with other possible factors, are at the source.

      Autism can be very difficult to work with as a parent, and I hope they find out the cause/cure soon. But flying off the handle, on either side, isn't going to get it done.

      • by tthomas48 (180798) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:59PM (#23040312) Homepage
        Scientists don't "insist that *every* vaccine is safe for *every* child". They insist that the small number of side effects in the small number of children is far better than the massive side effects (like death) of having to treat the diseases in large populations including children. They are fully aware that there are going to be a tiny number of kids that have negative reactions to vaccines. That doesn't outweigh the number of deaths that are prevented by getting rid of these diseases.

        And these are planetary efforts. Sure in the US most of these diseases are not going to kill your kid (unless they're born prematurely), but outside the US these childhood diseases are much more serious. Vaccines are for the good of mankind.
      • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:00PM (#23040324) Homepage Journal
        "It seems that most scientists insist that *every* vaccine is safe for *every* child,"
        Unless a child has an allergy to something in the vaccine, they are.

        "I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that the large number of vaccines that are administered at once nowadays, along with other possible factors, are at the source."

        Actually it is unreasonable.
        It wasn't unreasonable to look at that possibility, but it has been shown not to be the cause many times.

        "Autism can be very difficult to work with as a parent, "
        no doubt, but continuing to say 'maybe' to the vaccine issue doesn't help.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by samkass (174571)
        The biggest problem with the situation is that the over-reactive parents are making the scientists defensive, and it becomes impossible to objectively discuss the evidence without appearing to "cave in".

        Autism rates over time do not match vaccination rates over time, nor do they match vaccination rates across national boundaries, nor do they match national Thimerosal usage rates. However, that does NOT mean that a vaccine didn't trigger a particular case of autism. It could very well be that the child wou
      • by jcr (53032) <jcr&mac,com> on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:26PM (#23040666) Journal
        It seems that most scientists insist that *every* vaccine is safe for *every* child,

        Not even close. What they do say, is that the chances of side-effects from vaccines are less than the hazards of the disease that the vaccine prevents.

        -jcr
  • While this a is a clear case of trial lawyers using our broken tort system discourage free speech, at least it's not being carried out by a government trying to silence someone with the full weight of the law. Unlike Mark Steyn's persecution before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for the charge of "hate crimes." That commission explicitly stated that there's no right to free speech in Canada:

    "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value. [nationalreview.com]

    Wrong on all counts, but the 1st Amendm

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:34PM (#23040006)
    They want to make sure she wasn't being paid to blog by the pharmacutical companies for their impending suit with them. Is it dirty? Yep. Is it wrong? No
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      well ok, they can have a 2 minute deposition wherein they ask her 'are you being paid by the pharmacutical companies?'. Depositions are given under oath (or, at least, lying counts as perjury). If they subsequently believe that she may have lied and can build a reasonable case to show that that may be the case, they can issue a more wide-ranging subpoena later. As it is, they're swanning over and demanding that she prove that she isn't in the pocket of the pharma companies - note that that's asking her to p
  • by vinn01 (178295) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:39PM (#23040052)
    The lawyer may be a sick farker, but the judge who allows this, without sanction, is even sicker.

    Third party subpoenas should be looked at under a microscope for relevance. This lady didn't manufacture, sell, or administrate the vaccine in question. What does she have to do with the underlying lawsuit?
  • Subpoenas (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrifterCC (673360) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:46PM (#23040144)
    I am not a lawyer, but you just wait about six months.

    The thing to understand about subpoenas is that in most states, once litigation commences, the lawyers (as officers of the court) for each side have the power to issue subpoenas to anyone who might have information relevant to the lawsuit.

    The major limitations on such subpoenas are ethical limitations (attorneys' behavior is governed by a complex but far-from-bright-line set of rules) and the rules against discovery abuse, which can be found at Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b) and elsewhere. The decision to grant sanctions is up to the discretion of the court, which basically means that an appellate court will go with what the judge decides, unless, for example, the discovery sanction is death.

    However, it looks like Ms. Seidel is in good hands lawyer-wise. Her motion to quash the subpoena (the way that one tries to avoid having to comply) hits a lot of different theories and defenses, including the most important one: that the subpoena won't lead to discoverable evidence.

    Postscript of Surprise: The plaintiff's attorney filed the suit in the Eastern District of Virginia, a federal court whose nickname is "The Rocket Docket." The consensus among attorneys is that once you file a case there, you should go ahead and say goodbye to your family for a few months. Rather than let litigation drag out for years, the Rocket Docket judges set -extremely- aggressive discovery schedules. Filing any complaint there is ballsy, no less a thimerosal one, since whether thimerosal causes autism is far from crystal-clear. Long discovery would mean more time for the plaintiff to gather evidence (and for new autism studies to come out).
  • by cprael (215426) on Friday April 11, 2008 @03:47PM (#23040152)
    The only thing that would surprise me is if the court _doesn't_ fine the lawyer that produced that thing. "Abuse of process" barely begins to touch the matter.
    • by Skapare (16644)

      It would NOT surprise ME if the court did NOT fine the lawyer. Many courts (maybe most) do let lawyers get away with abuse of process like this quite often. We'll have to see how this one turns out.

  • by NIckGorton (974753) * on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:13PM (#23040476)
    I am going to sue Micro$oft and that will allow me to subpoena CowboyNeal's recored relating to any treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, psychopathology, and substance abuse. Like duh its obvious why his claptastic history would be pertinent.
  • The H-word (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:16PM (#23040522)
    This is nothing more than sheer harassment disguised as a blatant fishing expedition.
  • Correct spelling (Score:4, Informative)

    by Skapare (16644) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:39PM (#23040858) Homepage

    Thiomersal is one of those words that is more misspelled (as "thimerosal") than spelled correctly (according to hit counts from a Google Search). Both the blogger and the lawyer in this case have it wrong. More info is at http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/topics/thiomersal/questions/en/ [who.int] and http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/topics/thiomersal/en/index.html [who.int]. Also see http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=516680 [nih.gov].

  • by joseph449008 (1121209) on Friday April 11, 2008 @04:59PM (#23041142)
    From Kathleen Seidel's Motion to Quash:

    17. The subpoena was not issued in good faith because its manifest purpose is not to elicit information relevant to determining Bayer's liability for Wesley Sykes' medical and developmental problems, but to indulge his parents' and their attorney's curiosity about my motivations and associations; to aggressively communicate their suspicion that I am not merely a fellow citizen who openly, intelligently and conscientiously disagrees with their public statements and actions, but a covert agent of the government, the pharmaceutical industry, or some other hidden force; to disrupt my relationships with my associates and news sources; and to intimidate, harass and retaliate against me for exercising my constitutional right to report and express opinions about matters of widespread public interest in which plaintiffs and plaintiffs' counsel are involved. These are not legitimate reasons to invoke the judicial subpoena power. Indeed, in so doing, Mr. Shoemaker has engaged in a sanctionable abuse of his authority as an officer of the court.

    WHEREFORE, Kathleen Seidel prays her motion to quash this unconstitutional, unreasonable, irrelevant, excessive, invasive, burdensome, frivolous, and clearly retaliatory subpoena be ALLOWED.
  • by buddyglass (925859) on Friday April 11, 2008 @05:23PM (#23041376)

    Reading between the lines, in issuing the subpoena, Shoemaker seems to be trying to determine whether Seidl is, in fact, being compensated by Bayer to act as an agent for their propaganda.

    If she's just an innocent blogger then yeah, this sounds like gigantic invasion of privacy. But if she's really just a shill for Big Pharma...well, then it's a little harder to muster up sympathy.

  • by seebs (15766) on Friday April 11, 2008 @09:10PM (#23043126) Homepage
    That's scary and abusive.

    It costs here a huge amount of money and time to comply, all because some jerkoff lawyer didn't like something she said.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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