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Judge Denies TRO in Websites Case

Federal district court judge Bernal denied an application for a Temporary Restraining Order in the lawsuit against three websites that list the names of registrants and family members on May 10. One of the reasons given by the judge is that there was insufficient evidence of irreparable injury despite the statements of 6 plaintiffs in separate declarations.

“The judge in this case ignored the evidence presented in the case that people have been significantly harmed by the defendant’s reckless and intentional acts,” stated attorney Janice Bellucci. “Further evidence will be presented to the court of that significant harm which includes physical and emotional harm as well as financial damage.”

A troubling component of the decision is the judge’s statement that defendants may have a right under the 1st Amendment to the U.S. constitution to publish information about sex offenders. Fortunately, the judge also stated, ‘The Court does not hold that Defendants will necessarily success on their First Amendment defenses.”

The judge’s denial of a TRO does not mean that the judge will rule against us in this case. Specifically, he noted that a ruling on a TRO is not a final decision on the merits.

The defendants in this case have filed a motion to dismiss and a hearing on the motion is scheduled for June 24.

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  1. Tired of hiding

    That judge might feel differently if one of his relatives was one of those websites!

    It is just common sense that there would be the potential for harm…does this person keep up with the news? How could they NOT know about people listed on those sites being murdered by total strangers simply because their information could be found online and on sites such as the ones in question?

    Is he really that uncaring about others? How can a person like that be qualified to sit in judgement of others? Really blows your mind the sort of people who out there playing God with other people’s lives!

  2. USA

    Well, this case could actually do a lot of good. In summary, its First very disturbing to think that someone who has been convicted of a crime and paid their debt to society continues to have their name, address and personal information online along with a photograph? This is just asking for trouble. Then, we now have certain cities or states requiring individuals to post a sign on their lawn? This is surreal and something out of a movie or Nazi Germany? I mean, be real. Can you ever imagine this happening 10-years ago? Or, what if someone had told you that this would be occurring? Now, we have web sites posting the same personal information online along with relatives or spouses information? Thats sick and very, very disturbing. Its now time for the states to change the laws so that things like this wont occur, before its too late or something happens to an innocent victim or someone mistakenly targets their neighbors mistakenly? I actually live next door to a man who has a twin? I randomly see the twin and mistake the two? Can you imagine if this man was a Sex Offender? Its time for Change

    • Eric Knight

      This case, on the surface, is the hardest one that Janice is litigating, because there is a strong First Amendment argument that the opposition will be using that must be overcome. For instance, in the Prop 35 case we are asserting the First Amendment because of a registrant’s right to free, anonymous speech. However, the extortion issues haven’t been addressed in court, and at this point, the judge sees no reason to grant a stay until the oral arguments are given.

      Now what the judge didn’t say was that the information on California Megan’s Law site could NOT be used by other “non-authorized sources” under penalty of law, which (ostensibly) is currently the case. In addition, there was no mention of the extortion argument. I’m sure Janice is holding a lot more cards to use during the oral arguments, particularly when Janice ties in the punitive aspects of the registry and expands those arguments to the outlaw website. I’m *HOPING* that the judge based his ruling on his understanding that the registry is regulatory, not punitive, and in-court arguments will make the difference in our favor.

      That’s as good an interpretation as I can give from my layman’s point of view.

  3. J

    I cannot understand how the family members of registrants can be dragged through the mud and get no relief from the courts. The intention of public disclosure – at least according to the legislatures – was to provide public safety. Now that this has gone beyond the realm of the original subject to include family members, that seems to be a case where these members can claim slander against these sites. How is this even conceivable in any stretch of the imagination? Damage has clearly been done to my children in the years since this ill conceived law at the hands of lawmakers, but to include family members for public scrutiny brings the game to a new low. I can’t even imagine what the character of this judge is, but it seems to me he is not fit to serve unless he makes some remarkable and convincing argument why this practice should not be reigned in immediately. I am in total shock and disgust as should any normal person be. Has all of society lost its humanity and using registrants as an excuse for this shameful display of our values?

    • alert

      I have never been to one of these sites and don’t care to but I’m curious J, how do they find information about relatives to post? Facebook and etc?

  4. mch

    What’s happened to me is probably typical of most RSO’s as a result of these public postings. I’ve had my work truck tires slashed 3 times (all 4 of them), garage windows shot through, house egged and graffitied and one death threat. Police did NOTHING! I figure it is just a matter of time before someone tries to physically harm me. RSO’s aren’t the “objects” of hate crimes, because we’re not a race or gender, we aren’t part of the general public anymore; RSO’s are not afforded the same level of protection as the general public, even though legislators, lawmakers, judges and law enforcement says we are. Experience tells me differently. I’m not a pessimist, just an optimist with experience.

    • C

      Wow, I am so sorry this has happened to you.
      What kind of an area do you live in? Sounds like it might be the same group of people doing this to you, Can you move to a nicer area?

      I am sure you have thought of putting up cameras, etc.

      What good will AB 702 for those of us who come off the registry when these sites can still list our names and whereabouts?

      • Ranon

        That’s my question. I’m off the registry but sorarchives & mugshots still have me up. I hope a win can be used as a precedent to mop up all the others. At the very least, a win would produce a foundation for a Google petition.

  5. steve

    Maybe the best approach is wait until ab702 passes and then see if our legislature will do what Georgia’s legislatures is doing bout these sites.

  6. Anonymous Nobody

    Unfortunately, there is nothing in the article here to tell us just what the court was told and presented on this matter. All we know from this is that the judge ruled “it” is not enough. If we knew what “it” was, we might even agree, and have a hundred details with which to elaborate in order to satisfy the court.

    That said, as for the judge noting that it does not mean he is likely to rule against the plaintiffs, well, that goes without saying, that is the law, not the judge’s personal feeling about the matter. In fact, had the TRO been issued, that does not mean it would stand in the end, could be ended later if the defendant won.

    I do find it a bit scary that the judge seems to focus on the point that the defendant might have a First Amendment right to publish the information. Frankly, if the judge sees that as the overriding issue, then the case is already lost. The site is simply publishing public information, because convictions are issued in open court, even if the person is not or no longer is on an SOR registry on the Internet. A lot of records on a lot of things are distributed, and even sold, on that very basis, such as any number of things in your credit report, such as a bankruptcy. Convictions are generally considered to be public record (there was a time when the courts ruled that the aggregation made a huge difference to the matter of public information, but they have dropped that thinking in the past 15-20 years). To make a First Amendment challenge to this Website is a losing argument, shows a lack of understanding.

    The real issue that can be fought here is the extortion. The issue is whether the Website can charge people who contact the site to challenge the validity of the information, regardless of whether it is found valid. Unfortunately, all that can be challenged here is the damage to people wrongly posted as SOs, not damage to people actually convicted as posted. Gee, for the latter, the information on this site is no more damaging that the states’ SOR lists on the Internet, and the courts (corruptly) rule those are fine and dandy.

    Secondly, the issue also is whether the Website is liable for information published on it that is false — its defense is that, like sites like Craigslist, it does not post nor monitor what is posted, so is not responsible for and so not liable for the information. The damage that might be done by such a false posting is the only point on which a TRO might be justified; damage from legitimate information stands no chance of winning this case. This case cannot bee about SORs; it can only be about those wrongly identified as SORs. From this story, I can’t tell if this point was the crux of the argument before the judge for the TRO. If not, then I fully understand why he denied the TRO.

    The only way convicted SOs might come out ahead with this case is to stop the site from making any charge for investigating the validity of the information posted on it, and liable for serious damages for any false information it presents. That charge, coupled with a lack of liability, is the business plan for this site, and with no income, and potential substantial losses, it might just go away altogether. Unfortunately, probably the majority of the people posted on this site would still be posted on states’ SOR Websites.

    All that said, this Website is scurrilous. These people are lower than the underbelly of a snake.

    • Eric Knight

      Don’t forget the issue that PC 290, from what I understand, does not allow for the information to be taken from the Megan’s Law site and used on a private site. However, I believe that the only liability is civil, not criminal; however, that still means there is an ordinance in place as tenuous as it may sound. I do know that a couple of phone app sites (“Hide yo kids, hide yo wife!”) chose to exclude California registrants from their databases for that reason.

      • Anonymous Nobody

        Which section number is that? I just trolled through many of the sections and could not find the one pertaining to posting on the Website, although I know its there. There are more than 40 sections of this damn thing!

        (This is another of the big problems with this entire SOR bit: the registration statutes are so long and voluminous, and constantly changing, that I don’t think ANYONE at all knows all the details in them. And SORs keep getting busted on some minor detail here or there that no one could possibly keep track of. This is so voluminous that for that reason alone it should be declared to be unconstitutionally vague! Even lawyers can’t consume it all — and so keep losing their challenges when any number of them really ought to be winnable — so how is some normal person supposed to know and understand it all and not end up in violation?)

        I was hoping to see the language for that prohibition. But since I can’t, let me simply say that I am doubtful that particular statute could stand up against a challenge. I am doubtful that something that is viewed on the Web in another state (or country) and dealt with in another state (or country) is subject to California jurisdiction. And as far as I know, that SOR list on the Web is not copyrighted material, and I’m not sure it even could be, which should mean that California has no enforceable claim to it. No offense in California jurisdiction, and no federal copyright claim should mean that section would not be very enforceable. Also, even federal law provides an exemption for quoting/reprinting a certain amount of copyrighted material, and the length of these posts would certainly not be more than that.

        Nonetheless, that section isn’t really applicable here, as the Website at the center of this lawsuit is not getting its posts from the SOR list on the Website. And they claim they are not responsible for anything posted there. You are saying the California SOR laws state say they cannot post anything from the SOR Website — they say they are not posting anything at all. Unique visitors to the Website are posting the information, and who knows where they are getting it, not necessarily from the state SOR list on the Web.

        • Ranon

          From California Megan’s Law:

          Legal and Illegal Uses. The information on this web site is made available solely to protect the public. Anyone who uses this information to commit a crime or to harass an offender or his or her family is subject to criminal prosecution and civil liability.

        • Anonymous Nobody

          Thanks. That language does nothing to affect this Website, even if they posted the SOR information themselves. Posting that info is not a crime, and if the stater posting the info is not harassment, neither is this.

        • Nick

          Yes, but here’s the problem… what ARE the penalties for committing the crime?

        • Anonymous Nobody

          Nick, that depends on what crime is committed. That language is referring to using the info on the Website to commit a crime presumably against the SOR, such as assault him or her, or to do something that might bring a lawsuit.

  7. J

    The penalties for committing a crime against a registrant is an additional one year in county jail for a misdemeanor and and additional five years in prison for committing a felony. There is no distinct definition regarding harassment and as you know, it would be very hard to prove and most likely with very little help from LE. I hope this clears things up somewhat.

  8. steve

    Can we beat them on a technicality? Our shots aren’t booking mugshots like EVERYONE else’s on those sites.

    • Anonymous Nobody

      There is no law that says they have to use a mugshot. They are not limited to what is on the Megan’s Law Website. They can do whatever they want — except cross a legal line. And in fact, their defense is that it is not even them doing it.

  9. Nick

    Janice, what about the Hobbs Act? This isn’t RICO, but it’s something else i’ve been researching:

    Extortion by fear

    The Hobbs Act covers extortionate threats of physical, economic and informational harm (i.e. blackmail). To be “wrongful,” a threat of physical violence must instill some degree of duress in the target of the extortion. Furthermore, it is unlikely an economic threat is “wrongful” for Hobbs Act purposes unless a defendant purports to have the power to harm another person economically and that person believes the defendant will use that power to deprive him of something to which he is legally entitled. Finally, in the context of blackmail, a Hobbs Act prosecution is probably proper if there is no nexus between the information the defendant threatens to expose and the defendant’s claim against the property of the target. – Source is Wikipedia

  10. Dad

    What’s right and wrong. My state has a direct law that says released records can not be redistributed or sold or profited from. It is a criminal act with penalties listed. But if they claim they “personally” don’t download the info (bull)then how are we to bring someone to justice. I’m not on a registry. My state says a person off the registry is not a sex offender. From definitions at the Code. This is a good example of showing a corporation is not a person. The shell game goes straight to Google and the other search engines. Noone is liable or responsible. Public Good? What good is it to force people into the underground? Even after paying their debt, and removal from the registries trying to rebuild a productive life to have to go underground. Will it take suicides (how many?) or will the back still be turned? I’m changing my name selling my home and moving. And commit online suicide. Seems like that’s the only way out.

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