I’ve often linked in the past to the work of New Hampshire blogger Kathleen Seidel, whose weblog Neurodiversity presents a fearless, systematically researched, and frequently brilliant ongoing critique of autism vaccine litigation. A prominent plaintiff’s lawyer in that litigation, Clifford Shoemaker of Vienna, Virginia, has just hit Seidel with an astoundingly broad and sweeping subpoena (PDF) demanding a wide range of documents and records relating to her publication of the blog. Seidel has been sharply critical of Shoemaker’s litigation, and indeed the subpoena arrived only hours after she posted a new Mar. 24 entry, “The Commerce in Causation“, critical of his legal efforts.
The subpoena contains no indication that Seidel herself is accused of defaming anyone or violating any other legal rights of any party. Instead it seems she is being dragged in as a third-party witness in Shoemaker’s suit on behalf of his clients, Rev. Lisa Sykes and Seth Sykes, against vaccine maker Bayer. Although Seidel has been a remarkably diligent blogger on autism-vaccine litigation, I can find no indication that she is in possession of specialized knowledge that Shoemaker would not be able to obtain for his clients through more ordinary means.
Instead, the first phrase that occurred to me on looking through the subpoena was “fishing expedition”, and the second was “intimidation”. Several clauses indicate that Shoemaker is hoping to turn up evidence that Seidel has accepted support from the federal government, or from vaccine makers, which she says she hasn’t. Also among the documents demanded: Seidel’s correspondence with other bloggers. As she puts it in her response:
The subpoena 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 bank statements, cancelled checks, donation records, tax returns, Freedom of Information Act requests, LexisNexis® and PACER usage records. 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.”…
Plaintiffs and their counsel seek not only to rummage through records that they suspect pertain to themselves, but also through my family’s bank records, tax returns, autism-related medical and educational records, and every communication concerning all of the issues to which I have devoted my attention and energy in recent years.
Seidel has responded with a self-drafted motion to quash the subpoena, and expresses confidence that a judge will rule in her favor, and perhaps go so far as to agree with her contention that it constitutes sanctionable abuse. Should the subpoena somehow be upheld and its onerous demands enforced, it could signal chilly legal times ahead for bloggers who expose lawyers and their litigation to critical scrutiny (& welcome Instapundit, Pure Pedantry, P.Z. Myers, I Speak of Dreams, Law and More, Open Records, Matt Johnston readers. And Orac/Respectful Insolence, with what he terms an “important rant“. More reactions here and here).