Posting Public Records Can’t Justify Anti-Harassment Order
The case is Catlett v. Teel, a precedential decision handed down today by the Washington Court of Appeals (written by Justice Stephen Dwyer, joined by Judge John Chun and Chief Judge David Mann). The Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment and I filed an amicus brief in this case—many thanks to our superb local counsel, Hyland Hunt; to my students Tanner Laiche, Rachel Levin, and Caleb Mathena, who worked on the brief; and to Scott & Cyan Banister for their generous support of our First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic.
From the court’s opinion:
Robert Teel appeals from the entry of an antiharassment protection order that restrains his behavior. The protection order was based solely on Teel’s actions in causing public records to be published—a right that is protected under both the United States and Washington Constitutions.
Accordingly, the protection order is invalid under chapter 10.14 RCW, which provides that an antiharassment protection order cannot be based on actions that qualify as constitutionally protected speech. In addition, the protection order imposes an unconstitutional content-based restriction and serves as an unconstitutional prior restraint on Teel’s speech….
Robert Teel and Annemarie Catlett were involved in a romantic relationship that ended in March 2017. In April 2017, a deputy from the Island County Sheriff’s Office telephoned Teel to inform him that Catlett did “not want him to come around” anymore. Teel subsequently availed himself of a website entitled MuckRock.com to make a request for public records concerning Catlett from the Island County Sheriff’s Office.
MuckRock is a third party Internet service through which users can initiate public records requests. By default, the requests and returned records are made publicly available on MuckRock’s website. However, users can check a box to “Embargo” the requests and records, making them private.
Teel used MuckRock to submit [various] public record requests about Catlett, and also one “regarding a convicted felon named Terry Martin. Teel later testified that he had suspected that Catlett and Martin had been engaged in a money laundering scheme.” The request about Martin produced some information that also mentioned Catlett: “This document stated that Catlett and Martin were romantically involved and that Catlett telephoned the Island County Sheriff’s Office to report that Martin had been harassing her.” The posted “court documents regarding Martin’s conviction for fraud were imbedded in Internet hyperlinks that contained records about Catlett.”
Catlett [eventually] filed a petition for a protection order. In the petition, Catlett asserted that Teel had been stalking and harassing her. [Details of other, limited interactions between Teel and Catlett omitted, because the harassment order wasn’t based on them. -EV] … [T]he superior court concluded that Teel’s actions in “making multiple public records requests … as to have them appear when Ms. Catlett’s nam
Article from Latest – Reason.com