Judge Spanks Lawyer, Blogging Librarian Wins:

In April, Jonathan Adler blogged briefly about a lawyer's subpoena against blogger Kathleen Seidel. Last week, and two months after the subpoena was quashed, the Magistrate Judge issued an opinion harshly condemning the lawyer:

Clifford Shoemaker, Esq. was counsel to the plaintiff in the underlying case. In the underlying case the claim was that the plaintiff-child developed neuro-developmental disorders from high mercury exposure as a result of exposure to defendant’s medicine in utero. Shoemaker is a 1973 law school graduate who indicates on his website that he has focused his attention on an alleged mercury-created autism epidemic. He claims to have “tried cases in federal district courts all over the country.”

Ms. Seidel was a non-party to the Sykes’ suit. Ms. Seidel maintains a website, www.neurodiversity.com, on which she posts articles she and others have written about the controversy about whether mercury has or has not created an autism epidemic. Shortly after posting an article on several fees Mr. Shoemaker obtained in various Vaccine Injury Compensation Program claims, Shoemaker served Ms. Seidel with the subpoena at issue.

The subpoena, as Ms. Seidel correctly summarizes:

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 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.”

... I quashed the subpoena and ordered Mr. Shoemaker to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11....

The subpoena which I have attached to this order is breathtakingly broad. Mr. Shoemaker made no attempt to avoid imposing an undue burden or expense on Ms. Seidel. To the contrary, I find that he sought to burden her by requiring production of every scrap of paper related to autism, her web site, her tax returns, and her communications with the government. He improperly imposes a requirement to create documents, e.g., a list of “names of persons helping, paying or facilitating ... these endeavors.” The documentation sought is exhaustive.

Shoemaker seeks to justify the subpoena by allegations that Seidel is not “a mere mother of an autistic child and housewife,” but a co-conspirator under 42 U.S.C. §1985 with her husband or “the defendant (Bayer) or by some organization dedicated to harassing this plaintiff (Ms. Sykes) and her witness ...” Shoemaker’s claim that Ms. Seidel was the “leader of a conspiracy to obstruct justice ...” is unsupported by any facts. It is clear that she has openly and extensively exercised her First Amendment right to speak out on the issue. Shoemaker certainly has the right to disagree with her, but he has no right to misuse the process to abuse her.

Shoemaker has not offered a shred of evidence to support his speculations. He has, he says, had his suspicions aroused because she has so much information. Clearly he is unfamiliar with the extent of the information which a highly-competent librarian like Ms. Seidel can, and did, accumulate. If Shoemaker wanted to know if Ms. Seidel was in part supported by or provided information by Bayer, he could have inquired of Bayer or limited the Seidel subpoena to that information. Instead he issued the subpoena calling for production of documents and a deposition on the day before he stipulated to dismiss the underlying suit with prejudice. His failure to withdraw the subpoena when he clearly knew that suit was over is telling about his motives. His efforts to vilify and demean Ms. Seidel are unwarranted and unseemly....

I find that Clifford Shoemaker violated Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1) and Rule 45(c)(1).... The 11(b)(1) violation may also violate Virginia’s Rules of Professional Conduct .... Clifford J. Shoemaker’s action is an abuse of legal process, a waste of judicial resources and an unnecessary waste of the time and expense to the purported deponent.

The Clerk of Court is directed to forward a certified copy of this order, the motion to quash, the show cause order, and the response of Shoemaker and Seidel to the appropriate professional conduct committee of the Virginia State Bar in order that it may be made aware of Clifford J. Shoemaker’s conduct and so that those authorities may take whatever action they deem appropriate.

As a sanction from this court, Clifford J. Shoemaker is ordered to attend within three months, a continuing legal education program on ethics and on the discovery rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He is ordered to file a certification of completion of the programs.

The order doesn't explain why no attorney fees were awarded against the sanctioned lawyer; I'm not expert enough on Rule 11 to be sure of the reason, but I take it that this is because Ms. Seidel may have been represented pro bono by Public Citizen Litigation Group in part of the litigation and represent herself in another part.

Just goes to show: Don't mess with librarians.