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Spam The Courts Idle

Spamming a Judge Is Contempt of Court 280

eldavojohn writes "TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau was sentenced to 30 days in jail because he urged his fans and followers to spam a judge. Apparently the judge (who was deluged with emails) decided that this was an act of contempt of court on the court's 'virtual presence' since nothing happened while the court was in session in regards to Trudeau's courtroom behavior. US Marshals are now trudging through those emails to decide if any are threatening."
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Spamming a Judge Is Contempt of Court

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  • I'm going to jail (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <yliruj>> on Friday April 09, 2010 @01:55PM (#31792232)

    Because people I've never met annoy the judge?

  • by drDugan ( 219551 ) * on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:00PM (#31792308) Homepage

    Lots of times "spam" represents an attack, DDS, harassment, unsolicited advertising etc. These are a problem, and people rightly want this controlled.

    But if I ask all my friends to send emails, and thousands of individuals all reply, I would think that is more like speech, a la "free speech". Nothing in TFA says the emails were threatening or trying to harm the judge.

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:00PM (#31792322)

    Because people I've never met annoy the judge?

    If you incited them to, then yeah. Courts don't look too kindly on people harassing court officials. This guy deserves a dumbass award.

  • Re:Oooh boy. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:02PM (#31792344)

    Maybe he shouldn't have been an idiot and incited people to do this act? This seems to be a pretty clear cut and easily defended example of contempt.

  • by DiademBedfordshire ( 1662223 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:05PM (#31792394)

    The judge isn't going after Trudeau, your ire needs to be directed to the prosecutor. It is their job to push the case forward. This judge is upset because

    he urged his fans and followers to spam a judge.

    and this is clearly Contempt of Court.

    Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority. Often referred to simply as "contempt", such as a person "held in contempt", it is the judge's strongest power to impose sanctions for acts which disrupt the court's normal process. []

  • Re:Oooh boy. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:12PM (#31792508)

    That's great, but how does that apply to this case? He was clearly inciting people to do this to be disruptive of the court. That's a pretty clear-cut and easily defended charge of contempt. Your abstract and vague claims have little bearing on the actual matter at hand.

  • by paeanblack ( 191171 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:12PM (#31792516)

    But if I ask all my friends to send emails, and thousands of individuals all reply, I would think that is more like speech, a la "free speech". Nothing in TFA says the emails were threatening or trying to harm the judge

    Free speech guarantees you the opportunity to say what you wish, but it does not let you force the audience to listen. The content of what you say is protected, but the manner in which you say it is not. If you are choosing your delivery method in a manner specifically to harass others, you are not eligible for free speech protections.

    Your rights only go so far as they do not impinge on the rights of cannot force people to listen to you.

  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:14PM (#31792534)

    What if you were on trial and asked your friends to fill the presiding judge's mailbox or worse, congregate and protest in front of his house. The message isn't being restricted, just this very targeted delivery.

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:14PM (#31792536)

    It's not free speech in a public forum, and the public doesn't have a right to address the court, at least not without going through certain channels. They need to be able to file an amicus brief under the rules of the jurisdiction if they want to speak to the judge on the issue the court is deciding. But the judge doesn't have to listen; courts aren't democratic. If you want to overturn a court democratically, you're supposed to do it through the legislature.

  • by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:20PM (#31792634)

    When you do it through non-public channels with the intent of disrupting a court preceding? This wasn't him asking a bunch of people to file amicus curiae to the court or asking them to write letters to their senators or congressman through official channels. He gave out the private email address of the judge and told a bunch of people to flood it with spam. If you can't see the difference, then there's not much I can do.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:20PM (#31792636) Journal

    Second, Spamming in general should be a crime!

    I hate spam as much as the next guy but why should something that is easily remedied with technology be a concern of government? I'm also not convinced that talking people into sending e-mails to a Judge should qualify as spam in the classical sense. When I think of spam I think of UCE -- unsolicited commercial e-mail.

    What's next, will it be called spam if some activist/interest group convinces it's members to flood their Congress-critters in-boxes with messages?

  • Re:Oooh boy. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:21PM (#31792648)

    So basically your claim is despite this being a completely legitimate use of the rule that it should be completely thrown out because a judge could hypothetically use it to punish someone he doesn't like? I'm sorry, but that seems completely asinine.

  • by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:26PM (#31792712)

    How many times have you heard something like, "Let your voice be heard. Contact your local Representative, Senator, etc.?"

    But such campaigns such as that is using an official channel to voice your complaints. Kevin Trudeau gave out the private email of the judge and was telling people to spam it. Do you see the difference now?

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:30PM (#31792782) Homepage Journal

    I'm sorry, schmucks like Kevin Trudeau need to be in jail for the same reason you put violent offenders in jail.
    To protect the public from their predatory behavior.
    And make no mistake, that's all Kevin Trudeau is about. You cut off one avenue of exploitation for him, he simply rolls over into another. And another. And another.
    Until they physically stop this jackass, he'll continue preying on gullible people via any and every means possible.

  • by HarrySquatter ( 1698416 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:34PM (#31792842)

    Well I think the main difference is that judges are supposed to follow the law as its written and not sway to public sentiment.

    If that were true then there would be no place for amicus curiae.

  • by Ohio Calvinist ( 895750 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:35PM (#31792858)
    To use the literal case of "snake oil"-- There is nothing illegal about selling snake oil, in and of itself (unless it were to be a dangerous product.) The legal issue is that a snake oil salesman implies that it "performs" some feat (implied warranty for a particular purpose). If the snake oil salesman truly believes that it works, but it can be proven that it does not, he has misrepresented the product. If the snake oil salesman knows it doesn't work, and claims that it does, then he is committing fraud. If a person choose to use this product and did not gain the advertised result, then most people would at least agree they are entitled to a refund or, maybe even damages that resulted due to use. In the case of Mr. Trudeau, it is alleged that his claims are false. Because customers are buying his book "for the purpose of implementing his 'treatments'" the book carries an implied warranty that the content of the text is fit for a particular purpose. If you bought the plans to assemble a boom-box from parts at Radio Shack, and were told that the plans worked, and you followed them properly and it did not produce a boom-box, you could claim that the product did not meet its implied warranty duties. If customers were buying his book for entertainment, not any particular purpose, all the book would need to have is "words" in some narrative format. If he said "I am selling an international anthology of alternative medical practices for historical, literary, or critical purposes" [and it's not my fault if you try them, and should they work, good for you] or "I am selling an international anthology of medical research that is the sole opinion of the individual authors" then it would be a different case. However, someone would have to first make a successful claim that the treatment does not work, or that harm was done by not using an alternative treatment, or harm was directly done by the product (which addresses another issue of strict liability.) In this case, the government is making such a claim, right or wrong. If he was not selling the book, but made it freely available, it would be a pure free-speech issue, which is a much more open to interpretation than fraud or misrepresentation in a transaction.
  • Why it's contempt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Proteus ( 1926 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:41PM (#31792946) Homepage Journal
    I'm not a lawyer, blah, blah.

    All the folks on here saying "wha? But he just asked people to e-mail support, that's not spam!" are entirely missing the point.

    You are not allowed to approach the Judge, or ask anyone else to approach the Judge, outside of court and certain other specially-sanctioned venues. It's called ex parte [], and is only appropriate in very specific circumstances, because - duh - that's likely to be unfair. That's the basis for the contempt charge.

    Now, if it had been a friend or two that e-mailed the judge, he might have just warned them off with a "that's not appropriate." But when enough people e-mail to fill his Inbox, it's quite clearly an attempt to influence the judge, and that's not OK .

  • I think it fits. FTA:

    The brouhaha began in February, when TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau urged his radio and web followers to deluge U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman with e-mail so he would side with him in a civil lawsuit pending before the Chicago judge.

    The difference here is that it's an email campaign intended to subvert the judicial process. That seems to fit the confines of contempt: "Contempt of court is a court order which, in the context of a court trial or hearing, declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority"

    In other words, it's not directed at the judge personally, it's directed at the judge in his official capacity as arbiter of the case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @02:46PM (#31793030)

    no such thing as a "private" driveway when your driveway accepts traffic from public/open roadways.

    The defendant would be getting the same punishment if he told hundreds of people to drive around the judge's house 24/7 honking and pulling into his driveway and flashing lights, etc. /caranalogy

  • Anyone can file an amicus curiae brief if they have something to say regarding a trial. That is the proper channel of communications. If I had a bunch of people protest outside a judge's house, or send tons of snail mail, that would also likely be judged as contempt. That's not how we conduct law in America. And before you scream 'free speech,' remember, the content of your speech is protected, not the delivery method. Free speech does not give you the right to force your speech on others. This is what Kevin the previously convicted felon did when he told his followers to fill the judge's personal email with unsolicited comments on a pending case. He tried to force his views on the judge, not the court, and therefore the judge is perfectly within the law to rule contempt.

  • Whatever you do, never suggest that people write to their senators or congressmen! Certainly the system needs reform when requesting people petition the legal system on your behalf is somehow a crime.

    That's kind of analogous, but not quite. The actions of a judge are not (or should not be) subjected to popular opinion. So while the emails were intended in the same way as emailing a member of congress, the intended effect is quite different-- basically attempting to directly influence the judge's decision which is not to be subject to undue influence.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:01PM (#31793192)

    Don't make me tap the form.
    It's not a new or practical idea.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:02PM (#31793206)

    This was a case where someone who had an internet following, asked them all to send an email to the judge.

    Right, harass the judge... good idea...

    Is it spam if a local radio DJ gets all of his/her listeners to send email to the local Congressman about something being discussed in Congress?

    No, because as an elected official in a democracy, the congressman is supposed to represent the people of his district. It's part of his job to listen to their opinions. Contrast this with a judge, who is supposed to rule based on the law and is supposed to not give a flying frak what people think about it. There's absolutely positively no valid reason at all whatsoever why you should be writing to a judge about an ongoing court case to voice your opinion. Flooding his mailbox with stuff he's obligated by oath and ethics to not take into account in his decision process is simply a form of harassment.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:03PM (#31793220)

    Would it have been contempt of court if he'd asked his supporters to send written letters to the judges office urging the judge to side with him?

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WhatAmIDoingHere ( 742870 ) <> on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:14PM (#31793348) Homepage
    Was this the judge's work email? Is it listed as an official way to contact the judge?

    If it was his home email, I can see it being harassment or some such thing, but if it was an official email address, it's nothing more than "contacting the judge through official channels to show support."
  • by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:17PM (#31793364)

    Please allow me to elaborate: []

    Just because you're a convicted criminal making money by selling snake-oil, doesn't mean everything you do is wrong. That said, he was basically trying to win a court case via popularity contest instead of through the legal process. There was no reason to ask supporters to do this. There was no expected benefit. If he wanted their testimony he should have introduced them as witnesses, which would open them up to be cross-examined.

    Instead, he gave one-sided testimony directly to the judge, bypassing discovery rules, with no possibility for the prosecution to cross-examine. I'm surprised this isn't a mistrial.

    And regardless of what happened in this case, he should serve his time in a furnace.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:17PM (#31793370) Journal

    Let me be clear: getting a bunch of people to send emails to someone is no different than littering their yard with fliers. It is harassment, not free speech. But even if it were, you can not influence an ongoing trial by communicating with a judge outside of the courtroom. In case you missed it the first time, that is what an amicus curiae brief is for. The difference being, an amicus brief is official and public, an email, letter, flier, or conversation outside the court is not. Do you not understand why one is permitted and the other is not?

  • by Fujisawa Sensei ( 207127 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:19PM (#31793402) Journal

    So encouraging people to use their freedom of speech is now a crime?

    The rule is don't mess with a Federal Judge. If you don't believe me, ask a a lawyer, you might even get the answer for free.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:50PM (#31793842)

    Botnet herders would make a killing by sending spam through hacked email accounts to their own addresses.

    Plus there's loads of other boxes on the form that can be ticked.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @03:57PM (#31793938) Journal

    OK, couldn't help myself.

    Your post advocates a

    (X) technical (_) legislative (X) market-based (_) vigilante

    approach to fighting spam. Your idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to your particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

    (_) Spammers can easily use it to harvest email addresses
    (X) Mailing lists and other legitimate email uses would be affected
    (X) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
    (_) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
    (X) It will stop spam for two weeks and then we'll be stuck with it
    (X) Users of email will not put up with it
    (X) Microsoft will not put up with it
    (_) The police will not put up with it
    (X) Requires too much cooperation from spammers
    (_) Requires immediate total cooperation from everybody at once
    (_) Many email users cannot afford to lose business or alienate potential employers
    (_) Spammers don't care about invalid addresses in their lists
    (_) Anyone could anonymously destroy anyone else's career or business

    Specifically, your plan fails to account for

    (_) Laws expressly prohibiting it
    (X) Lack of centrally controlling authority for email
    (X) Open relays in foreign countries
    (_) Ease of searching tiny alphanumeric address space of all email addresses
    (_) Asshats
    (X) Jurisdictional problems
    (X) Unpopularity of weird new taxes
    (_) Public reluctance to accept weird new forms of money
    (X) Huge existing software investment in SMTP
    (X) Susceptibility of protocols other than SMTP to attack
    (_) Willingness of users to install OS patches received by email
    (_) Armies of worm riddled broadband-connected Windows boxes
    (_) Eternal arms race involved in all filtering approaches
    (_) Extreme profitability of spam
    (X) Joe jobs and/or identity theft
    (_) Technically illiterate politicians
    (_) Extreme stupidity on the part of people who do business with spammers
    (X) Dishonesty on the part of spammers themselves
    (_) Bandwidth costs that are unaffected by client filtering
    (_) Outlook

    and the following philosophical objections may also apply:

    (X) Ideas similar to yours are easy to come up with, yet none have ever been shown practical
    (_) Any scheme based on opt-out is unacceptable
    (X) SMTP headers should not be the subject of legislation
    (_) Blacklists suck
    (_) Whitelists suck
    (_) We should be able to talk about Viagra without being censored
    (_) Countermeasures should not involve wire fraud or credit card fraud
    (_) Countermeasures should not involve sabotage of public networks
    (X) Countermeasures must work if phased in gradually
    (X) Sending email should be free
    (_) Why should we have to trust you and your servers?
    (_) Incompatiblity with open source or open source licenses
    (_) Feel-good measures do nothing to solve the problem
    (_) Temporary/one-time email addresses are cumbersome
    (_) I don't want the government reading my email
    (_) Killing them that way is not slow and painful enough

    Furthermore, this is what I think about you:

    (X) Sorry dude, but I don't think it would work.
    (_) This is a stupid idea, and you're a stupid person for suggesting it.
    (_) Nice try, assh0le! I'm going to find out where you live and burn your house down!

  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:10PM (#31794134) Homepage

    This was not 'lobbying the judicial branch.' I fact, there is no such thing. The judicial branch does not write the laws, you can not and should not lobby them to change anything. They can't. If you have something to say about an ongoing trial, file an amicus curiae brief. That is the only lawful channel for a third party to influence a trial.

    Then why does the first amendment not specify that it doesn't apply to the judiciary?

    If the people who wrote it meant that they would have said that.

    No one in the Federal government is supposed to be above the Constitution. Not even our Imperial Judiciary. Frankly, things in this country (including the legal system) started to go to hell when people started looking to the courts to make law instead of legislators. This greatly increased the power of judges and politicized them. The unelected branch of government is only supposed to be a referee, not make executive decisions or legislate. Yet they have been doing more and more of this for the last 40 years.

  • by richcsst ( 1092331 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:16PM (#31794202)
    He's lucky it was only Contempt of Court and just 30 days. This could have been considered threatening a judge, attempting to extort a judge, bullying a judge, attacking the court etc. Criminal charges could certainly have been levied against the idiot. You do not orchestrate an "attack" on a judge, especially one that is hearing your own case. Severe punishments are attached to such things simply to keep the impartiality intact (don't bother whining about that to me). The law upholds the integrity of the court and violating that integrity carries severe punishments.

    No, this guy got off easy.

    I am a Constitutionalist, and those claiming it was a violation of the Constitution have not read it. Grievances, petitions, etc. are allowed to be given to the GOVERNING body, not the judicial. The judicial branch is tasked with deciding based on the given laws. It is not to be swayed nor influenced by public opinion. The decisions are to be made based on the law and the evidence, period. The US is a Republic based on law. It is not (contrary to common belief) a Democracy based on the whims of the mob. Judges decide if you violated the law. They do not make law. Public petitions to sway decision have no legal place in the courts. Public petitions are for the Legislative branch.

    This isolation of the judicial was designed to shield it from politics and the whims of special interests and the public. If the public didn't like a ruling or law, then it was their responsibility to petition the legislature to change the law. That is what the legislature is for. Judges are not there to change the law. Judges can only rule for the plaintiff or the defendant with only one possible third option, declare a law unconstitutional. That's it. The Constitution laid it out that way to preserve justice and keep it safe from the mob.

    This idiot was attempting to usurp justice and bully the judge into deciding not based upon law and evidence but by public opinion and intimidation. If he feels the judge's decision was wrong, the law gives him the right to appeal that decision.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:17PM (#31794218)

    If they had all sent in letters through the post office, would this have been considered illegal?

    Uh, yeah! It would still be illegal. If you're involved in a case before a judge or jury, you're not allowed to try and influence the judge or jury outside of court. The judge shouldn't set up filters to block e-mails from people involved in his cases, though, as there are legitimate communications that need to be made (scheduling, for example).

    I thought this was common sense. How is this controversial?

  • by warkda rrior ( 23694 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:24PM (#31794306) Homepage

    Now, if it had been a friend or two that e-mailed the judge, he might have just warned them off with a "that's not appropriate." But when enough people e-mail to fill his Inbox, it's quite clearly an attempt to influence the judge, and that's not OK .

    Well, maybe judges need to be sequestered away from society like juries if they're so easily influenced.

    It's not that a judge is easily influenced, it's that he cannot prove to the other party that he was not influenced.

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ffreeloader ( 1105115 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:29PM (#31794390) Journal

    How did freezing the judge's Blackberry disrupt the trial? Does he preside over the trial from a remote location by phone? Can he not preside over a trial without email on his phone? Has he no other computer in his chambers?

  • Re:Awesome! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 09, 2010 @04:32PM (#31794438)

    No. But had he told them to send them to the judges HOME, it would.

    Email to judge's private email => sending letters to home. Contempt
    Email to judge's office email => sending letters to office. Not Contempt

  • I'm sorry, your question does not make sense.

    The first ammendment applies to everyone. But it does not give you the right to attempt to influence a judge regarding an ongoing trial outside of the proper channel of the amicus curiae brief. If you want input on a trial, you must go to court, not the judge. The reason for this is obvious: nobody should be able to influence a judge off the record.

    The first ammendment only protects the contents of speech, not the method. You may not use harassing methods of speech. You may not post fliers on my door. You may not stand outside of my door yelling your opinion loudly. Your right to free speech does not overturn my rights.

    The Supreme Court are the only ones with the power to overturn laws. They do not have the power to create new laws. Your sad misunderstanding of the US constitution, and the history of the United States, seems to be copied verbatim from some sort of right wing talking point playbook, and has no relation to actual reality.

    If you would like to prove you are not a brainwashed right wing ideologue, you are welcome to attempt to find evidence to support your outrageous claims. Find me an example of the courts making a law and I will retract my statements and apologize. But you won't, because outside of paranoid Republican fantasy, it has never happened.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:17PM (#31795168) Journal

    The difference being, an amicus brief is official and public, an email, letter, flier, or conversation outside the court is not. Do you not understand why one is permitted and the other is not?

    If electronic communication with a judge via email is not an official channel and not permitted, perhaps technical measures to enforce said policy should be in place, no? Otherwise, it comes down to "Whhhaaaaa, they're not supposed to do that".

    Does it? Because it sure looks like it comes down to "You're going to jail for being a dick, Kevin" to me. That seems to be a pretty decent enforcement mechanism and a far cry from "Whhaaaa, they're not supposed to do that." It seems more like, "Bitch, sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up," to me. Extra jail time. Now THAT is just the bitch-slap this sociopath needs.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Friday April 09, 2010 @05:31PM (#31795384) Journal

    Freedom of speech does not give you the right to harass others with your speech. Freedom is much more complicated than "You aren't the boss of me and I'll do whatever I want!"

    See my sig:

  • by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Friday April 09, 2010 @06:01PM (#31795718)

    The courts cannot write law. They can interpret law, and in particular they can decide that a superior form of law (like the US Constitution) overrides particular laws of another form (like state statutes). To say otherwise is to make the Constitution essentially meaningless, as there's nobody to enforce its primacy.

    That being said, the Supreme Court doesn't always do the right thing, and anybody who studies their decisions is likely to have a list of bad ones. Trying to be fairly non-controversial, I think their decision that professional baseball is not covered by anti-trust law a bad one.

    The Supreme Court didn't write a law striking down state abortion laws. It decided that those laws conflicted with the US Constitution, and were therefore invalid. (You may disagree with Roe vs. Wade. Personally, I think it was a bad decision, since I don't think the Constitution means what they claim it did.)

    Similarly, the Supreme Court cannot require the government to do something, but they can require the government to not do X without doing Y. The Court couldn't order that Buddhist priests be allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies, but they can decide that if Christian clergy may do so that Buddhist clergy must also have the ability. I don't remember anything in the US Constitution about marriage, so states are free to allow marriage or not, but they cannot apply marriage laws in unconstitutional ways.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito