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    Blogger Kathleen Seidel Fights Subpoena Seeking Information About Vaccine Litigation

    by David Ardia
    April 11, 2008

    We’ve been following the subpoena issued to Kathleen Seidel in the Citizen Media Law Project’s Legal Threats Database, but thought it was time to throw our support behind Seidel and post about this egregious attempt to chill online speech.

    Seidel publishes the blog Neurodiversity,
    where she writes about autism issues. In February 2008, she wrote about a lawsuit against various vaccine manufacturers, Sykes v. Bayer,
    in which the plaintiffs, Lisa and Seth Sykes, seek to link exposure to mercury to their son’s autism.

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    Seidel’s post mainly focused on developments in the lawsuit, but some
    of her language was critical of the Sykes and their case. For example,
    she indicated that the Sykes have “aggressively promoted the
    overwhelmingly discredited scientific hypothesis
    that autism is a consequence of mercury poisoning” and called their
    lawsuit “a hydra-headed quest for revenge, for compensation, and for
    judicial
    validation of autism causation theories roundly rejected by the greater
    scientific community, by numerous courts, and by a great number of
    individuals and families whose interests they purport to represent.”

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    Apparently as a result of this post, the Sykes served her with a subpoena
    in connection with the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit. The subpoena demands
    that Seidel appear for a deposition on April 30, 2008 and that she
    produce a breathtaking array of documents. Seidel summarizes the subpoena’s demands as follows:


    The subpoena commands production of “all documents pertaining to the
    setup, financing, running, research, maintaining the website
    http://www.neurodiversity.com” — including but not limited to material
    mentioning the plaintiffs — and the names of all persons “helping,
    paying or facilitating in any fashion” my endeavors. The subpoena
    demands bank statements, cancelled checks, donation records, tax
    returns, Freedom of Information Act requests, LexisNexis and PACER
    usage records. The subpoena demands copies of all of my communications
    concerning any issue which is included on my website, including
    communications with representatives of the federal government, the
    pharmaceutical industry, advocacy groups, non-governmental
    organizations, political action groups, profit or non-profit entities,
    journals, editorial boards, scientific boards, academic boards, medical
    licensing boards, any “religious groups (Muslim or otherwise), or
    individuals with religious affiliations,” and any other “concerned
    individuals.”

    On March 31, 2008, Seidel filed a motion to quash
    the subpoena in federal district court in New Hampshire. (The
    underlying lawsuit, Sykes v. Bayer, is taking place in federal court in
    Virginia, but the Sykes obtained the subpoena from the district court
    in New Hampshire because that court has jurisdiction over Seidel, a New
    Hampshire resident.) The motion to quash, which Seidel wrote herself,
    argues that the Sykes’ subpoena infringes her constitutional rights,
    seeks material irrelevant to the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit, and was not
    issued in good faith. Of particular interest, the motion argues that
    the subpoena requests material protected by the “journalist’s
    privilege.”

    Thankfully, the subpoena has received widespread coverage in the blogosphere (see here, here, and here,
    to start). But it still highlights the vulnerability many bloggers
    face because they simply don’t have anywhere to turn when they recieve these sorts of
    legal threats. In fact, the more popular a blogger becomes, the more
    likely he or she may be the target of a legal threat. As Carolyn Elefant noted on Legal Blog Watch:

    That Shoemaker felt compelled to intimidate Seidel with a subpoena is,
    as some bloggers have pointed out, a testament to her blog’s influence. Says Law and More’s Jane Genova:
    “Kathleen Seidel’s blog “Neurodiversity,” which deconstructs autism
    vaccine litigation, has influence. Why else would those she discusses
    have issued a subpoena for the documents used for her blog posts?” And Matt Johnston asks, “So what happens when a blogger becomes something of an expert? They get slapped with a subpoena for their research.”

    While Seidel is opposing this subpoena herself, she doesn’t lack for supporters. We’re behind you Kathleen. Keep up the fight.

    (You can follow further developments in the case in our Legal Threats Database entry: Sykes v. Seidel.)

    Tagged: bloggers cmlp legal threat litigation subpoena
    • Thanks for commenting on this.

      I am one of the 100+ bloggers mentioned in item 5 of the subpoena.

      I am keeping a running list of responses to the Seidel subpoena at I Speak of Dreams. I’ve added your blog.

    • Thanks for posting about this David.

      So what does “we’re behind you” mean in practical terms? Anything more than simply voicing support for Seidel? Is the citizen media law project providing her with any concrete support (legal advice, research, etc.)?

      – Amy Gahran

    • veronica sheehan-miles

      The blogger spouted insults at the parents and maybe effected their son’s case . Neurodiversity had no problem inserting their opinion about the case before. The blogger should be happy that they are now being asked to put up or shut up. If you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.

    • Amy: We’ve offered to provide Ms. Seidel with legal assistance, but we are not currently representing her in any capacity.

      Veronica: Your comment highlights the reason why this case is so important. The fact that Ms. Seidel publishes controversial material, which you and others disagree with, does not mean that she should be coerced to “shut up” by a lawyer who represents a party she has “offended.” Just because we disagree with speech, doesn’t make it any less worthy of protection.

      The subpoena in this case seeks information that has no relevance to the Sykes litigation and asks for an almost unfathomably broad collection of information, including her bank statements, tax returns, communications with religious organizations, and personal correspondence with other bloggers.

      If you and others don’t like what Ms. Seidel is saying, then you have every right to say so. But the use of unjustified legal threats should never be allowed to make someone “shut up.” We all lose when we allow that to happen.

    • As it turns out, I have company; another Motion to Quash a non-party subpoena in Sykes v. Bayer was filed last week in the District of Massachusetts by Dr. Marie McCormick of the Harvard School of Public Health.

    • The judge quashed the subpoena and ordered the lawyer to explain why it was justified in the first place. You can read more here.

    • Whew! Long story about Seidel vs. Sykes huh?! And not to mention that their fight is focused mainly on seeking information about vaccine litigation. But definitely, this is an interesting topic to read on. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • LIH

      Thanks-

      Was looking for some quick info on this in G~ and your post came up.

      A~

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