Readers: I want to give an update as to where things are going in the lawsuits. There will probably be quite a few legal maneuvers this fall in the federal case, as the discovery process begins to wind down, and I want to let you know where things are, and what is ahead. My descriptions are the best I can do with an untrained legal mind.
Back in March 2009 when I first discovered the existence of the subpoenas into my blog, I said back then that I was determined to find out what took place that led to issuance of subpoenas to identify the name of the Watchdog, which led to my letter of 16 sins and trespass papers for me and my wife, courtesy of FBC Jax. At about the same time the Watchdog story first broke in the newspapers, I submitted a request for our sheriff's office to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the connection between the detective and the church and what I felt was an obvious conflict of interest. What I received in short order was a letter from a city attorney (the same one that now is defending the detective in this case), and no formal internal affairs investigation done at JSO. That letter and its explanation to me of what happened is now an important part of the evidence in this case that has been discussed in many of the depositions.
Eventually I secured legal counsel and several lawsuits were filed, one of which was a First Amendment lawsuit that made its way into federal court against: the City of Jacksonville, the JSO detective that requested subpoenas into my blog and several other blogs, as well as the state attorney's office including the assistant state attorney who signed those subpoenas.
The first amendment lawsuit has been going through the "discovery" process since about March of this year, and discovery will be wrapping up over the next month or so. If this lawsuit ever makes it past summary judgment, and past mediation, it would likely go to trial sometime in 2011.
As you might recall, the judge in this case issued a lengthy ruling back in April in response to the defense's motion to dismiss (see Wade Burleson's post). As I understand it, the judge in this ruling clearly established a First Amendment right for anonymous speech, and the judge said if my allegations in the original complaint were true, that a violation of the First Amendment would have occurred. So the case was allowed to proceed to determine if our allegations were true, and the defense would have a burden to show they did have a legitimate governmental purpose in uncovering my identity. That is what the defense is doing, and doing vigorously as one would expect.
If you've ever been a party to a lawsuit, you know that there is a period called "discovery". This is when both sides send written questions to the parties involved, and from the answers to these there are usually "depositions" taken of people who are witnesses to the facts of the case.
Thus far there have been many depositions. My count is around 23 or 24, that have taken hours and hours. I have sat in just about every deposition given. Depositions are bascially out-of-court question and answer sessions where the opposing attorneys drill you about your knowledge of the case. They want to know what facts the witness has, and what the witness' testimony will be if the case goes to trial. There is a court reporter present, and you are sworn under oath to tell the truth. Lawyers have more leeway in asking questions at deposition than they do in a trial, and at times things get a little heated. The lawyers can go at it too, as there is no judge present, and we've had our share of moments in the depositions with that, and that is something I'll write about someday. But everything in a deposition is recorded and transcribed into the record by the court reporter, just as though it occurred in court.
In this case, the depositions have been a lawyer-fest. At the depositions I have my one lawyer of course, and we are facing at least two lawyers, sometimes three with the city's General Counsel office, two from the Attorney General's office in Tallahassee representing the state attorney's office, and the FBC Jax lawyer is present for most of them as well. There was even an FBI lawyer present during Detective Hinson's deposition.
I gave my deposition first, and they kept me for about 8 hours. My wife's deposition was maybe 3 or 4 hours. The other long deposition was Detective Hinson's, which was about as long as mine.
Most of my extended family members were deposed by the city. They were asked questions about me, about my blog, about my marriage, about their blogging habits, my mental state, and anything else the defense wanted to ask them.
The Brunsons have been deposed. Robert Hinson, the JSO Detective involved, and Steven Seigel the Assistant State Attorney have been deposed. John Blount, the church administrator gave his deposition. Even under-sheriff Frank Mackesy and Sheriff John Rutherford gave their depositions in this case. A few FBC Jax members and a former FBC Jax minister were deposed as well.
During discovery, expert witnesses are disclosed, and they have to give written testimony of their views of the case, and they too can be deposed by the opposing attorneys.
Many of my questions as to what transpired in 2008 that led to the subpoenas, have been answered through these depositions, as you can imagine, at least what the witnesses have said happened in the fall of 2008. This has been an interesting progression of finding out who said what, who did what and why, etc. There have been some quite shocking and surprising elements to the testimony, as I suppose one would expect in a case like this.
But what started out as me wanting answers, for me has progressed to realizing the importance of this case to First Amendment rights of anonymous writers in general, and the rights of bloggers in particular. I didn't really comprehend the importance of the case until depositions were given by the defense witnesses, and as I have begun to understand the defense tactics of the city of Jacksonville lawyers. It is an important case, a very unique case.
In my view, if the defense prevails, this would have an incredibly chilling effect on free speech, especially critical, unpopular speech, on the Internet.
What is next? There is more discovery, probably a few more depositions, then motions for summary judgment I expect will be made, and then court-appointed mediation sometime in the fall. If the case makes it that far, then I expect a trial sometime in 2011.
I'll do my best to keep you posted as I can, although in the fall maybe some of the legal events that transpire in this case and also the case against the church will be in the local media and I'll try to keep my readers outside of Jacksonville updated.
For now, I am committed to continuing writing my views on this blog, regarding matters at FBC Jax and evangelical Christianity, unabated and not intimidated, and with the aid of my lawyer I will continue the fight in this lawsuit.
The Watchdog - "...the coward that he is"