Vaccine lawyer subpoenas Kathleen Seidel

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” – 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).


  • The whole debate about autism is full of emotions but what is lost is the understanding of what vacinations are all about. I see many patients that are still left with the paralysis of polio. In previous generations, children where left in iron lungs as they slowly died of respiratory failure. Chicken pox which is now a rash used to cause severe encephalitis and sometimes death. There are thousands just in our state who are deaf because of measles.

    We can be upset about autism and let our emotions direct our anger outwards but dont forget that vaccinations save millions upon millions of lives each year, not to mention preventing paralysis and deafness.

  • I wish I was in private practice still – I’d be on a plane to represent Ms. Seidel pro bono.

  • She forgot to ask for sanctions.

    I would have, inasmuch as it’s clearly an attempt to intimidate her.

  • Another case of a lawyer using the bar as a club, in both senses of the word. He’s using tools available at little or no cost to members of the club that is called the bar association to club someone into submission.

  • I wish I could remember where I saw this, but someone online pointed out that thimerosal was removed from vaccines many years ago but the rate of new autism cases has not decreased at all.

  • I think this may rise to the level of warranting actual news coverage by the “real” media. In my opinion it is transparently obvious that the only connection to this case that Kathleen has is that she has been a burr in the side of the lawyers and Lisa Sykes trying to spin their disinformation.

    I would think the “real” media would want to get on top of such an obvious case of misuse of subpoena power to squelch investigative reporting.

    I would think that even (dare I say) David Kirby would be concerned when “investigative reporters” are subjected to such draconian legal threats. After all, he is an “investigative reporter” too. I am certain that David Kirby’s files and correspondence would be much more interesting to Glaxo-SmithKline, Wyeth, Inc. and Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corporation than Kathleen’s files and correspondence would be to Lisa Sykes. No doubt the files and correspondence of the bloggers on would be a lot more interesting too. If the plaintiffs in this case can subpoena a random blogger, presumably so can the defendants.

    Perhaps this could be the opening that brings the whole house of cards of the Mercury Militia tumbling down.

  • I wish I could remember where I saw this, but someone online pointed out that thimerosal was removed from vaccines many years ago but the rate of new autism cases has not decreased at all. is an excellent site that goes into many of the different issues of the day, one of them being autism and thimerosal. Here’s one article I found:

    Here’s another, which is a letter by Aubrey Stimola, Research Assistant at the American Council on Science and Health\

    Note: I am not affiliated with JunkScience or any of the other organizations or authors referenced above. I’m just a concerned father who hates to see children fail to get proper medical treatment, including vaccinations.

  • Ah the Chicken Pox Shot, the one they are looking at now concerned that it may be the dormant Chicken pox virus that is causing the increased incidence in MS?

  • Is Shomaker, a VA attorney registered to practice before the US District COurt for the District of NH? If not (and I suspect that this is the case) the subpoena is meaningless. Ms. Seidel should call the Clerk to see if Shomaker is registered to practice in that court and act accordingly by putting that information in her motion to quash along with a request for sanctions. See FRCP Rule 41:

    (c) Protecting a Person Subject to a Subpoena.
    (1) Avoiding Undue Burden or Expense; Sanctions.

    A party or attorney responsible for issuing and serving a subpoena must take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to the subpoena. The issuing court must enforce this duty and impose an appropriate sanction — which may include lost earnings and reasonable attorney’s fees — on a party or attorney who fails to comply.

    Rule 11 sanctions may also be appropriate.

  • VMS
    I think you mean FRCP 45. But the concern you raised was something i was wondering.
    Shomaker could be admitted pro hac vice, but for a subpoena? That sounds like an awful lot of work to do and expense. He would be required to file an application to NH U.S. Dist. Court setting forth the basis of the necessity of his temporary admission.
    While federal standards for discovery are set forth in FRCP 26 et seq., i don’t know how Shomaker is satisfying the 26(b) requirement, since Ms. Seidel is not a party to the action and it is unclear how a blogger, while apparently well versed in the science of autism, would possess information that is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” FRCP Rule 26(b).
    Shomaker could also run afoul of FRCP 26(g), which requires that the attorney certify that the discovery device is not being interposed for any improper purpose such as to harass.

  • @MF is a horrible site run by a guy who used to do PR and lobby for tobacco and still is a memeber of various right wing think tanks. Don’t use it as a source for anything if you want to be taken seriously.

    (Note: I’m not arguing for anti-vax, I just don’t like bad sources.)

  • The irony of someone citing Sourcewatch at the same time as saying “I don’t like bad sources” is palpable.

  • Che hates actual data? LOL, of course, real data is dangerous.

  • Yes..well I’m certain that a web site proclaiming itself to be “A guide to the political left” takes a “fair and balanced” approach to it’s subject matter.

    Che is right. Bad sources are a problem. All 3 leave much to be desired. Junkscience is a particularly bad cesspool of misinformation.

  • I don’t know what you guys have against, but I have found it to be very enlightening. I take everything on the net with a grain of salt, but as far as I can tell, they just give out the other side of the story you don’t usually hear. I don’t know what misinformation they have given out, and this is the wrong place to argue over that anyways.

  • As I’ve just described in my latest blog entry, the list of other bloggers and sites that appear in item #5 of this “subpoena” turn out to be nothing more than half-arsed cut-and-paste of the blogroll in Kathleen’s side-bar. Apparently, by Shoemakers standards of “evidence,” the mere fact that Kathleen tossed a link in her side-bar means that the person linked to is fair game for “investigation.”

    Now, obviously, he has no intention of actually investigating anything meaningful here. But by (absurdly) trying to use Kathleen as an involuntary proxy, he is, in effect, threatening to invade the privacy of the entire combined bulk of the autistic self-advocacy, cognitive diversity, and disability rights movements. BAD MOVE, Cliffy!

    Frankly, I think this glorified ambulance chaser has gone senile.

  • The only reason junkscience is pro-vaccination, is because of RFK Jr’s position. If RFK Jr was pro-vaccine, junkscience would take the opposite position.

  • wildlifer,

    RFK is always wrong – in the case of vaccines horribly and immorally wrong. There has never been any credible evidence that vaccines cause, or even exacerbate, autism.

    Your implication is true because of its vacuous hypothesis. RFK is purely evil, he will never have a rational thought.

    Sometimes is silly – its treatment of Al Gore, for example. But it’s treatments of DDT and GMO have been wonderful. On the whole it is a terrific blog.

  • Thanks for getting this information out beyond the autism community.

    Lawyers can do some good things. But by harassing an innocent blogger, Shoemaker gives those who already have a problem with their image a huge black eye.

    I only hope that the mainstream media pick up this story.


  • Are you kidding about the DDT part? It’s nothing but the usual “Rachel Carson killed millions” nonsense that treats DDT as if it were a magical wonder drug a completely misrepresents the history of its usage and the opposition to it.

  • “Are you kidding about the DDT part?”

    I haven’t read the JunkScience entry on DDT, but your summary of it (other than the word “nonsense”) appears to be pretty accurate. If that’s what they’re saying (that banning DDT’s use lead to the deaths of millions of Africans), well, they’re right. It’s not a “wonder drug”, it has certain side effects, especially is not used responsibly, but even irresponsible use of DDT does not remotely compare to the million+ that die of malaria EVERY YEAR.

    If that’s JunkScience’s worse sin, well, I’d say they’re pretty much gospel.

  • Just out of PURELY innocent curiosity – is 7 for 15 in 18 months a good record for a lawyer in ordinary practice?