Welcome back to How to Legal. At How to Legal you can learn how to use the good side of the Internet to combat the dark side, in this era of fake news, misinformation, disinformation, and/or defamation against ethical judges and innocent people.
To simplify, hereinafter, “fake news” refers to “fake news, misinformation, disinformation and/or defamation.”
First, we’ll look at some of the real problems in the United States justice system so you won’t be deceived by fake ones. Then we’ll shine a light on real solutions, and wrap up with a legal open-source primer to get you warmed up.
Yes, there are real problems that need to be fixed, but they’re not going to be fixed with people freaking out, and acting on fake news that creates more problems that need to be fixed.
On that note, the problems and solutions we’re looking at today include:
- Fake news and defamation mean more injured people, lawsuits, and criminal indictments.
- The Declaration of Independence; words can lift people up, and words can kill.
- Fake news and threats against judges + peaceful solutions.
- The unethical, oath-breaking judges.
- Dark money and funny business that’s potentially influencing court decisions and thwarting justice + peaceful solutions.
The good news is the solutions to fix the problems (real news) are peaceful, and they simultaneously combat fake news. There’s more good news.
Supreme Court Justices are also waving red flags about the serious and dangerous real problems with the court. Here, in this example, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is waving a red flag.
In rare public remarks, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas told a Notre Dame crowd, “I think the court was thought to be the least dangerous branch, and we may have become the most dangerous.” pic.twitter.com/EHK2pEGWdB— The Recount (@therecount) September 17, 2021
Updated: Sigh... Now it’s Justice Thomas who is the red flag. See: John Kruzel, “Ginni Thomas’s activism sparks ethics questions for Supreme Court justice,” The Hill, March 19, 2022.
There’s a lot of information here, so pace yourself. You can bookmark How to Legal and come back. If you aren’t interested in real problems and solutions, scroll down to a legal open-source primer.
It’s towards the bottom. Thanks!
Okay, let’s do this.
Problem. Fake news and defamation = more injured people, lawsuits, and criminal indictments
For starters, at the criminal level, more people were induced into action when they acted on fake news and conspiracies. They were arrested while terrorizing people. This cannot continue if you want to live in a civilized society. This FBI Intelligence Bulletin shows you several examples of cases where this has happened.
As you can see, the trajectory is going in the wrong direction. Some of the criminal cases include, but are not limited to a father who “killed his kids over a QAnon ‘serpent DNA’ conspiracy,” according to U.S. officials, Global News, August 12, 2021, and over 600 indictments in 40 states stemming from the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capital.
Fake News spreads around the world
Fake news is not exclusively an American problem. Fake news can and is spreading around the world like cancer. Here, in this example, as the Associated Press reported on October 5, 2021, “French child kidnap plot shows global sway of QAnon style.”
Several months prior it happened in the U.S. See: Will Sommer, “QAnon Mom Charged With Kidnapping Her Kids,” The Daily Beast, March 28, 2020.
Update: QAnon has spread to Canada. See: QAnon-inspired protest in Peterborough, Ont., prompts investigation, CBC, August 18, 2022.
“Ontario’s civilian police watchdog is investigating an arrest in Peterborough, Ont., on Saturday that resulted in serious injuries during a QAnon-inspired protest, in what has become another example of far-right conspiracy theories having real-life consequences in Canada.”CBC
Problem: More defamation lawsuits
At the civil level, there appears to be an uptick in defamation lawsuits, filed by injured parties who were caught up in fake news and conspiracies. This also means more cases for courts with busy dockets.
Tragically, this has included families of murdered loved ones, like the Sandy Hook families and Seth Rich family. This should not be necessary or tolerated in a civilized society. Grieving families should not have to spend years in litigation on top of dealing with their devastating loss because of fake news and conspiracy peddlers.
See: Learn defamation laws from jury instructions —Sandy Hook Hoax v Alex Jones, How to Legal Bitesize
Just the other day I read another horrific defamation lawsuit (60 pages) that was filed in Pennsylvania. In this case, it’s a supervisor of a voting machine warehouse in Pennsylvania. He is suing Donald Trump, attorneys Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and others, in a defamation and civil conspiracy lawsuit.
“Civil conspiracy occurs when two or more persons combine or agree intending to commit an unlawful act or do an otherwise lawful act by unlawful means.” Weaver v. Franklin County, 918 A.2d 194, 202 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007). (citing Grose v. P&G Paper Prods., 866 A.2d 437 (Pa. Super. 2005); see also “… an overt act done in pursuance of the common purpose…” Phillips v. Selig, 959 A.2d 420, 437 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008).
According to the complaint the dissemination of “these outrageously defamatory claims and/or insinuations against [redacted],” subjected “[Plaintiff] to threats of physical violence … causing Plaintiff to suffer inter alia two (2) heart attacks.”
Two heart attacks.
Words can lift people, educate, expose injustices, and words can harm and lead to murder …
While people have freedom of speech, people also have the right to be left alone, to live in peace, to be happy, and be able to find happiness.
What’s happening online with the fake news crisis that’s spilling over into the real world is the opposite of the Declaration of Independence.
It’s dangerous and it always has been.
The Declaration of Independence was intended to guarantee the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The problem is there is no life, liberty, or happiness when you are being defamed, harassed, stalked, intimidated, bullied, gaslighted, and/or threatened. Add to that the stress of being stuck in litigation for years while trying to obtain relief and redress.
See: This Sandy Hook Father Lives In Hiding Because of Conspiracy Theories Fueled By Alex Jones, PBS’s Frontline, July 28, 2020.
See also, “Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials,” in part:
“This might be a good time to put a f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pistol in your f‑‑‑‑‑‑ mouth and pull the trigger … Your days are f‑‑‑‑‑‑ numbered.”
–ANONYMOUS THREAT TO VERMONT ELECTION OFFICIALS …
In all, they are responsible for nearly two dozen harassing communications to six election officials in four states. Seven made threats explicit enough to put a reasonable person in fear of bodily harm or death, the U.S. federal standard for criminal prosecution, according to four legal experts who reviewed their messages at Reuters’ request.Reuters, November 9, 2021
See also: “U.S. election workers get little help from law enforcement as terror threats mount,” Reuters, September 8, 2021.
I don’t know about you, but I need a music break here. The cruelty, terror, and pain, that people have suffered, and continue to suffer, because of fake news… There are no words.
For me, my music pic is Portishead – Roads. What’s yours? See: Portishead’s official website.
Freedom of speech is not the freedom to threaten, intimidate, and incite violence.
Freedom of speech has never been the freedom to intimidate, threaten, or the freedom to incite violence.
These are actionable crimes when you are in a court with oath-following judges.
If anyone tells you otherwise, they are not telling you the truth. If they are an officer of the court (judges, lawyers…) they are oath-breakers according to their oath.
This unlawful conduct is a threat to democracy. As such, the Justice Department formed an “Election Threat Task Force” to hold bad actors accountable.
Update: See: Texas Man Arrested for Making Election-Related Threats to Government Officials: First Case Charged by Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force, Department of Justice, January 21, 2022.
Update: See also: “Vindman lawsuit accuses Trump Jr., Giuliani of witness intimidation, retaliation,” in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) and (2) The Hill, February 2, 2022, “His complaint… alleges two counts of violating federal law prohibiting conspiracy to intimidate and retaliate against a witness.” Read Vindman’s 73-page complaint here.
See also when words led to threats, intimidation, and possible violence from the other side of the aisle. I wrote about it in my book, The Whistleblower: Chapter 1: Under Siege which was published in 2012.
People need to stop playing politics. Threats, intimidation, and inciting violence are wrong and unlawful all of the time irrespective of political leanings. Oath-following judges hold bad actors accountable. Oath-breakers don’t. Oath-breakers give bad actors a free pass to harm more people.
Contact and tip information
If you have been threatened, intimidated, and/or someone has incited violence against you, contact the FBI at the contact information below. If you are not in the U.S. contact a similar counterpart in your country.
To report suspected threats or violent acts, contact your local FBI office and request to speak with the Election Crimes Coordinator. Contact information for every FBI field office may be found at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/. You may also contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or file an online complaint at tips.fbi.gov. Complaints submitted will be reviewed by the task force and referred for investigation or response accordingly. If someone is in imminent danger or risk of harm, contact 911 or your local police immediately.The United States Justice Department
Problem. Threats to Federal judges increased 400% in the past five years (2016-2021)
Another problem facing the courts is there’s been an increase in threats against judges. It’s the oath-following judges, who faithfully apply the law, who are part of the solution. These judges hold people accountable who incite violence — people who have advocated imminent lawless action. Oath-breakers don’t.
See: Brandenburg test in Brandenburg v. Ohio to learn about the legal standard.
A little history here is necessary. In a September 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The Threat to Judicial Independence,” retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote, in part:
[W] hile scorn for certain judges is not an altogether new phenomenon, the breadth and intensity of rage currently being leveled at the judiciary may be unmatched in American history. The ubiquitous “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” have become central villains on today’s domestic political landscape.The Threat to Judicial Independence, Wall Street Journal
Since Justice O’Connor’s 2006 op-ed was published attacks on the Court have skyrocketed. As CBS’s 60 minutes reported on May 30, 2021, threats to federal judges have increased 400% in the past five years (2016-2021). 400%.
According to ABC News, some experts say misogyny is a part of the problem. Tragically, one judge’s son was murdered. Now Judge Esther Salas fights for better protection for judges who are doing their jobs.
But it’s not solely judges who have to worry about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. The safety of judges can affect you even if you have nothing to do with the legal system.
Why? Without judges faithfully and impartially discharging their duties under the Constitution and the laws of the United States, there is no justice. Oath-breakers give bad actors a free pass to keep doing whatever they were doing, and society can devolve into chaos.
To wit, fake news and threats against judges must not be tolerated in a civilized society. It must not be tolerated by anyone.
Solution. The Rapid Response Guide to Fake News, Misleading Statements, and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary and How to Legal
To help combat the fake news problem against the judiciary, the Committee on the American Judicial System (“Committee”) created the “How-to Guide for Rapid Response to Fake News, Misleading Statements, and Unjust Criticism of the Judiciary.”
This rapid response guide was created to:
provide a mechanism through which a bar association and members of other constituencies can provide timely responses to the serious, unjust criticisms of judges and the judiciary, to fake news, or to misunderstandings about the role of a judge or the judicial system. The focus of these responses is to provide the public with information to help them better understand the legal issues related to a specific situation, including the role of judges, the application of the law, and the restrictions and responsibilities placed on judges in the canons and rules.Committee on the American Judicial System
In brief, the Committee’s mission is to protect “judicial independence and the rule of law. To preserve “fair and impartial courts,” and respond “to unjust criticism of the judiciary and the media.” Great.
Problem. The unethical, oath-breaking judges. Dark money and funny business influences court rulings
Another challenge facing the courts, and the judges, who faithfully and impartially discharge their duties, and stand firm against corruption, includes the problem within.
It’s the unethical judges who thwart “justice.”
These are the judges who abuse their authority. They don’t follow the rules. They violate their oath and break laws. They may unjustly enrich themselves via dark money, a kickback, a bribe, or something. They may try to break an injured party seeking justice by never faithfully applying case law, and breaking rules to drag out cases.
See also: 5 Corrupt Judges & The Countless Lives They Tried To Destroy, Crimefeed.
It’s such a problem that some lawyers, judges, and journalists, have been waving red flags for years trying to address it. Fix it.
- See for e.g.: Justice in Jeopardy, Report of the American Bar Association Commission on the 21st Century Judiciary (2003);
- Judge Paul L. Friedman, “Threats to Judicial Independence and the Rule of Law, “November 18, 2019;
- Alicia Bannon, “The rise of dark money is a threat to judicial independence,” ABA Journal, July 5, 2018; and
- Michael Berens and John Shiffman, “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020.
- James V. Grimaldi, Coulter Jones, and Joe Palazzolo, “131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest: The judges failed to recuse themselves from 685 lawsuits from 2010 to 2018 involving firms in which they or their family held shares, a Wall Street Journal investigation found,” Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2021.
In addition, it’s the oath-breaking judges who give the public a legitimate reason not to trust the justice system.
Further, just like fake news increase court cases, oath-breaker judges increase caseloads for their colleagues too.
Why? Because eventually oath-following judges will have to clean up the mess created by their oath-breaking colleagues and restore due justice to the victims (survivors) of judicial misconduct.
See for e.g., “Texas District Judge Sentenced to Prison [in part for accepting bribes],” Department of Justice, September 25, 2019; “What did former judge Tracie Hunter do? An explainer and timeline,” Cincinnati.com The Enquirer, updated July 24, 2019; and “Federal Judge Files Recusal Notices in 138 Cases After WSJ Queries: Rodney Gilstrap initially argued he didn’t violate financial-conflicts law,” Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2021.
Like all institutions, the justice system is as strong as its weakest links.
Solution. Education, exposure, and accountability
All this fake news and reported judicial oath and law-breaking also undermines the public’s trust in the judges who serve with honor and distinction. It’s not right. The oath-followers are being broad stroked with the same brush as their unethical colleagues.
As elucidated by the Committee is to educate the public about the legal system. Education informs the public about proper judicial procedures.
Like everything, when you know the right way, you can identify the wrong way.
Solution: Journalists investigating and reporting potential judicial misconduct
Among the solutions to restore integrity in the legal system is by exposing and holding the oath-breaker judges accountable.
The good news is there are journalists, lawyers, and law students who are doing this important work.
Following, in part, is how a former chief justice described the justice system to Reuters journalists, Michael Berens and John Shiffman who broke, “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020.
“It’s a ridiculous system that protects judges and makes it easy for them to intimidate anyone with a legitimate complaint.”
Sue Bell Cobb, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme CourtReuters, June 30, 2020.
Senior Judge Arthur Grim is another judge who wants to see his unethical colleagues exposed and held accountable. He’s seen the horrific damage caused by two judges in Pennsylvania against thousands of teenagers.
From Reuters, Michael Berens and John Shiffman’s “Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench.”
[Senior Judge Arthur] Grim told Reuters that every state should adopt a way to compensate victims of judicial misconduct.
“If we have a system that holds a wrongdoer accountable but we fail to address the victims, then we are really losing sight of what a justice system should be all about,” Grim said.Reuters, June 30, 2020.
A system to “adopt a way to compensate victims of judicial misconduct,” should also deter future misconduct from the bench like punitive damages deters defendants.
Solution: What’s punitive damages?
Costa Ivone, a personal injury law firm, provides an in-depth explanation of punitive damages if you wish to learn more. You can learn a lot from some law firms websites when you How to Legal.
Punitive damages are meant to punish particularly egregious behavior by the defendant…
Punitive damages are sometimes referred to as “exemplary” damages because they also serve as an example to dissuade the defendant from behaving that way in the future, but more so to deter others from engaging in similar conduct ..Costa Ivone
One would suppose it’s reasonable to assume that oath-breaking judges would qualify as “particularly egregious behavior.” Yes?
Solution: Lawyers and law students exposing unethical, oath-breaking judges
As Reuters also reported, in part:
In another review underway in Ohio, state public defender Tim Young is scrutinizing 2,707 cases handled by a judge who retired in 2018 after being hospitalized for alcoholism. Mike Benza, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University whose students are helping identify victims, compared the work to current investigations into police abuse of power. “You see one case and then you look to see if it’s systemic,” he said.
The review, which has been limited during the coronavirus pandemic, may take a year. But Young said the time-consuming task is essential because “a fundamental injustice may have been levied against hundreds or thousands of people.”Michael Berens and John Shiffman, Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench,” Reuters, June 30, 2020.
Updated: If you wish to know more and want to be a apart of the solution, following are some groups that are dedicated to restoring integrity to the United States justice system.
- @MeTooCourts on Twitter
- Fix the Courts
- Free Law Project.
- CREW – Citizens for Responsibility & Ethical Government in Washington
- Brennan Center for Justice
Thanks to the important work people are doing there’s hope for victims (survivors) of judicial misconduct. Finally, they may be made whole while simultaneously restoring trust and integrity in the United States legal system.
Thereby, exposing and holding oath-breakers accountable is a win-win for everyone except for the oath-breakers and their co-conspirator(s) cohorts, should any exist. Right?
A legal open-source primer to get you warmed up.
Okay, moving forward.
Among the scores of open source legal resources I used to learn How to Legal when I was litigating as a pro se defamation plaintiff was I watched Moot Competitions to become familiar with legal arguments and process.
These are mock trials conducted by law students with judges like this one from Harvard Law School. You can watch them too.
I also enjoy listening to and learning from “Stay Tuned with Preet.” Preet Bharara is a former U.S. Attorney at the Southern District of New York. With his colleagues, he breaks down “legal topics in the news and engages thought leaders in a podcast about power, policy, and justice.”
You can tune in, subscribe, and read the written content too.
Okay, let’s wrap this up.
Words matter. Judges faithfully discharging their duties under the laws of the United States matter. You never know who will be harmed by oath-breaking officers of the court, fake news, defamation, and phony credentials until you do.
Now that you know some of the real problems within the justice system, it will be harder to mix up real news about oath-breaker judges versus fake news about oath-following judges.
I hope How to Legal will give you an appreciation and respect for oath-following judges. The judges who also stand firm against corruption. As such, How to Legal will be highlighting some judicial proceedings to learn from in upcoming installments.
It’s time to get up, stretch, and move around before we head over to How to Legal: The Rules.
For me, its Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with Ray Dalton, “Can’t Hold Us.” What about you?
None of the information I publish on this website is legal advice. While I have litigated as a pro se defamation plaintiff, when Reuters and Wall Street Journal’s reporting exposed judicial misconduct, I am not a lawyer. This information is for educational purposes and public service to help combat fake news. If you need legal advice, please consult with a licensed professional in your area.
If you have learned something and would like to show support please send donations here. Thank you.
If you are stressed out by fake news, real news, or for any reason check out Stuff for Stress.
If you see any typos or mistakes kindly send me an email so I can fix them. No text messages, please. Thank you.
ARE YOU STUCK IN A MEDIA ECHO-CHAMBER, or know someone who is, and needs help breaking free? Take The Break Free from Media Echo-Chambers 30-Day Challenge. There are problems on both sides of the political aisle and real problems that need to be fixed. Acting on fake news just creates more problems that need to be fixed. ++
** This post was updated to include, “Reuters unmasks Trump supporters who terrified U.S. election officials,” November 9, 2021, The Wall Street Journal’s “131 Federal Judges Broke the Law by Hearing Cases Where They Had a Financial Interest,” and yet another defamation case filed by a supervisor of a voting machine warehouse.
** Updated again with “First Case Charged by Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force,” Department of Justice, January 21, 2022, and contact information to report threats, The Lincoln Project’s “Legitimate Political Discourse” ad depicting real-world events, the Brandenburg test, and “Ginni Thomas’s activism sparks ethics questions for Supreme Court justice,” The Hill, March 19, 2022.
*** Updated again with my book, The Whistleblower: Chapter 1: Under Siege. Published in 2012 — threats and words inciting violence against people is not a new thing.
Updated again to include some of the groups trying to restore integrity to the United States Justice System. Yes. It’s a thing. See also update: QAnon-inspired protest in Peterborough, Ont., prompts investigation, CBC, August 18, 2022.
Updated again to include civil conspiracy case law in Pennsylvania.