Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Outing anonymous blog commenters in court a bullying tactic

In the SA Express News ' Hearsay blog on the Bexar court system, reporter Elizabeth Allen picks up on Grits' coverage of efforts by the Texas Attorney General on behalf of Bexar County probation director Bill Fitzgerald to out anonymous blog commenters at a probation officers' employee blog . I'd suggested that Bexar judges should rein probation director Bill Fitzgerald in, but Allen thinks they won't do it because:
judges are worried about losing their immunity from lawsuits if they get involved in the day-to-day matters of the probation department — and they've been told by the AG's office that what constitutes "involved" is very hard to define. Another issue is that the group that oversees Fitzgerald is made up of 21 judges from two different judicial levels, and even getting a quorum, much less agreement on a sticky subject, can be quite a headache.
If that's accurate, it means that Fitzgerald is basically a rogue acting with no oversight at all. Bexar judges should be less worried about their immunity and more worried about their responsibility to oversee the probation department and ensure it isn't entirely dysfunctional. Voters don't necessarily understand that judges are supposed to control this mess, but probation officers in Dallas helped unseat judges in the last election cycle who weren't responsive to needs of POs (and for that matter probationers themselves).

I also wonder what Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, thinks about his minions trying to out anonymous blog commenters, not because they libeled anyone but simply to expose them to possible retaliation? Why would Abbott allow his attorneys to bully Bexar probation officers this way?

And would Google have just turned the information over if plaintiffs' attorneys hadn't filed a motion to quash? I've wondered about this in the context of Texas Youth Commission commenters on Grits, and this makes me more curious than ever what information Google/Blogger keeps on IP addresses of anonymous blog commenters and under what circumstances they release the information?

If this kind of bullying is tolerated, I wonder what other shennanigans Bexar judges are letting Bill Fitzgerald get away with at the Bexar County probation department because they're afraid to get involved? I may have to mosey down to San Antonio soon to look at the entire court file on this case. No wonder his employees are angry at him.

UPDATE: Thanks to Texas Justice Dot Org, here are all the pleadings in the lawsuit (pdf) between Bexar probation officers and probation chief Bill Fitzgerald, for those interested in more detail.


Anonymous said...

Apparently the 1st Amendment doesn't apply to those trying to start a union. According to several officers, the Chief can change policy at any time or just ignore it for his benefit. They say try and get a copy of the Standard Operating Policy which has been under "revision" for over a year. No officer can show you what the policy is! Their Human Resource person has several of her relatives working at the department, and numerous people have been promoted for knowing "Good to Great," which has nothing to do with probation! They deal in lives, not production of materials. The worst thing management can do is de-motivate it's employees, well Chief it seems you've managed to do that VERY WELL.

Anonymous said...

It appears that only the judges can take care of this mess. I can guarantee that the next election will reflect what you judges do with this infringement on the officers 1st Amendment rights and the continued harassment and retaliation. Do your duty and fire Chief Fitzgerald. There are many qualified people who can get this department back on track.

tttt said...

Grits, here's a link to the lawsuit and all the motions, etc. that has been filed in this case. Enjoy.

Texas Justice Dot Org

We'll be watching this as well.

Anonymous said...

I am personally disgusted with the judges who continue to offer the same pathetic excuses for failing to get Fitzgerald under control. How many times do we have to hear the judges whine about their "loss of judicial immunity" if they so much as look at the angry little man. The state government code states that the judges shall hire a director and a fiscal officer. This doesn't mean that once a director is hired, he can rule with tyranny, retaliate against any employee who questions him, and operate without any accountability. Judges, wake up, if the law allows you to hire a director, then you can also fire the director. I suggest you get busy before your angry little director really embarrasses you and brings even more negative attention your way.

Anonymous said...

ut-oh looks like a loose cannon is at it again. give up not worth the spit (hocker) on teh sidewalk. later dude.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I hope that someone subpoenas the IP's from the TYC thread. There are several libelous statements made there, and if the people named choose to act on it, would have a solid case against the person(s) that made them.

Anonymous said...

Grits- your welcome any time in Bexar. I have a feeling your fingers will cramp for weeks when you get home from all the things you will want to tell about.

Also - why can't the juges be held liable for official opression. Some of them have been involved. One judge ripped up a Union Flyer in front of an officer while giving an "at will speech".

All attorney's who are interested in a bench in Bexar County contact your local friendly probation officer. The buck stops in 2008.

To quote Nelson Wolff- tell the judges to stop hiding behind their robes and do something.

Anonymous said...

There is a simple answer here, as far as I can see it: dont post as 'anonymous', just make up a different name every time you post and dont link it to anything.

Anonymous said...

Bexar Judges have turned their blind eyes and deaf ears once again on the Probation Officers. How long do you think it will take before you (the judges) are exposed for not doing anything?? and allowing Bill Fitzgerald to get away with oppressing the officers? Here is a question when and if you make it to heaven and the book of life is opened and all that you have and have not done will be there, what will you tell GOD? Remember their will be only one ROBE worn in heaven!!!! Act know or answer to him later. Shame on you.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ tracy robson - if this were a libel action I might feel differently but it's an employment action over Fitzgerald retaliating against his employees for unionization. Given that, IMO it's insupportable.

As to the TYC threads, where as you know I've been fearful myself that some comments approached libel, I wouldn't expect litigation or subpoenas b/c a) truth is a defense and there's a lot of dirt that could still come out, and b) TYC employees make so little money there's nothing to sue them for (lawyers call that being "judgement proof").

Personally I think Google sholdn't keep that information at all. I don't know if they do but it would solve lot of problems if they just kept no identifying info stored about anonymous commenters, the same way librarians began destroying old library borrowing records when the PATRIOT Act said they could be used for criminal investigations. If they don't keep the data, it can't be subpoenaed. best,

Anonymous said...

The judges in Bexar County may not be doing anything because they can't be legally held accountable and they may not sufficiently be afraid of the memories of voters when election time comes.

Texas Government Code

(a)The responsibility of a judge described by Section 76.002 for personnel decisions is limited to the appointment of a department director and a fiscal officer.
(b)The responsibility of a judge described by Section 76.002 for budgetary decisions is limited to:
(1) appointment of a fiscal officer; and
(2) approval of the department's budget.
(c) A judge described by Section 76.002 has judicial
immunity in a suit arising from:
(1) the performance of a duty described by Section 76.002(a); or
(2) the appointment of a department director or a fiscal officer or an act or failure to act by a department employee or by a department director or fiscal officer.

Texas Government Code
§ 76.002. ESTABLISHMENT OF DEPARTMENTS. (a) The district judge or district judges trying criminal cases in each judicial
district and the statutory county court judges trying criminal
cases in the county or counties served by the judicial district
(1) establish a community supervision and corrections
department; and
(2) approve the department's budget and community
justice plan.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., ch. 255, § 4, eff. May 30, 2005.

Retaliation is an act and being done by a department director matters not according to the statute that grants the judges immunity. Hopefully, some smarter than the rest judge will understand that the end run around this thing is to appoint a new director. The current director is presumably an at will employee and would likely have no legal redress if he was replaced.

Anonymous said...

Grit's, is this technically possible?
Can you tell who is posting to your Blog?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I cannot tell who is posting anonymously to my blog.

However, Sitemeter (which I made nonpublic recently for this reason) tracks IP addresses and other non-identifying information about who comes on the blog, from which you could theoretically identify an individual computer for which you already knew the IP address, particularly if someone were using a computer on the job.

The real technical question is whether Google/Blogger keeps IP address information for anonymous commenters. I don't know the answer to that. I submitted something on this to Slashdot and if they post it for sure some of their commenters will know the answer, but I do not. I'm neither a lawyer nor a technical expert. It's an open question as far as I know both whether that information even exists or if so under what circumstances it could be subpoenaed.

If anybody DOES know, please inform us - this is a troubling trend, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Grits - Truth may be a defense, when the statements made are that - the truth. But, I can guarantee that a couple of statements made in the TYC thread are nothing more than someone grasping at straws with false accusations trying to turn attention away from the real reason they were fired.

I am sure there is still a lot of "dirt" left that needs to be addressed at McFadden Ranch as well as other facilities in the system, however slinging anonymous (false) comments isn't the way to go about it.

TYC employees may not make much money, and money hungry lawyers may not see much profit in taking on a case involving this but, if Google does retain the IPs, and if they could be obtained, they could be used to show that the person(s) that made them are not telling the truth, and the reasons they are no longer employed by TYC have nothing to do with "telling the truth"

Sometimes, it isn't about the money, it's about what is right.

IMHO anyway :)

Anonymous said...

I can tell you this much about tracking IP's. I use Firefox as my web browser. There is an "add-on" you can download that allows you more stuff to do, within the browser.

One of the option says "Avoid the possibility of Google building up a cohesive profile about you. This does not block your access to Google Account services, such as GMail. Some services may be affected. For example, in Google Groups the list of "Recently visited" groups becomes empty."

And also " Google Analytics is a service from Google that helps webite owners analyze how users use their sites. Information about your use of certain websites (including your IP address) can automatically be transmitted and stored by Google using cookies"

Then there is the option to turn off those features.

So, my bet is on, yes, they can tell and do know where the anonymous IP address are.

rothmatisseko said...

Fitzgerald's actions seem to violate the First Amendment's assembly and speech clauses, seeking to prohibit anonymous speech and to prohibit assembly.

An interesting question is whether we have a right to anonymously assemble in addition.

Anonymous said...

Fitzgerald thinks he can intimidate everyone and prevent them from posting blogs by filing his affidavit request with Google. Don't be afraid bloggers. Speak your minds and exercise your right to free speech without trepidation. We will get this little runt in the end. By the way, which judge tore up the union flyer while delivering his "Right to work for Less, At-Will employment speech? I'm curious. Kurt Kuehl, President, USWA 9487, Dallas Co PO's

Anonymous said...

The 175th District Court Judge Mary Roman. Up for re-election in 2008.

Anonymous said...

That's no way for a judge, particularly a Democrat, to be acting. The Democratic party is the party of labor and doesn't need judges like Roman. Get ready for 2008, Roman. The thunder you're hearing in the background isn't the latest round of storms, it's the Bexar Co. PO's unionizing and coming after you. Ohh, I almost forgot. Fitzy can save you so continue cheerleading for your chief. Sounds like a real winning formula.

Anonymous said...

Dear Grits,
Do you know what happened to the Bexar-Me blogspot?

Anonymous said...

I agree, anonymoty is the way to go!

(Anonymous Proxy)