Saturday, March 30, 2013

Grand jury indicts 35 in Georgia school cheating scandal

See further discussion here.

What do you expect when you allow schools to keep their culture of secrecy and backdoor politics? If you want real reform, you have to change the culture of the education establishment.

Schools don't like people who make waves. They like people who fall in line with school politics.

"For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended."

Beverly Hall reminds me of the administrators and board members I knew at Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Report: Test cheating may be widespread

Grand jury indicts 35 in Georgia school cheating scandal
35 employees indicted over alleged cheating
By Chelsea J. Carter
March 29, 2013
Watch this video

Atlanta (CNN) -- In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.

The indictment is the bookend to a story that was once touted as a model for the nation's school districts after the district's test scores dramatically improved in some of its toughest urban schools.

Among those indicted by a Fulton County, Georgia, grand jury was Beverly Hall, the former schools superintendent who gained national recognition in 2009 for turning around Atlanta's school system.

"She was a full participant in that conspiracy," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters during a news conference announcing the charges.

"Without her, this conspiracy could not have taken place, particularly in the degree in which it took place."

The indictment follows a state investigation that was launched after a series of reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper found large, unexplained gains in test scores in some Atlanta schools.

A state review determined that some cheating had occurred in more than half of the district's elementary and middle schools. About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.

Threats and intimidation

Hall has denied any role in the cheating scandal. In 2011, she told The New York Times that her subordinates had allowed the cheating to occur, but denied she was involved.

Hall resigned from her position in 2011 following the state investigation, which lambasted her leadership and found widespread cheating in dozens of Atlanta schools.

The alleged cheating is believed to date back to early 2001, according to the indictment, when standardized testing scores began to turn around in the 50,000-student school district.

For at least a period of four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.

Hall allegedly oversaw a system where threats and intimidation were used against teachers, it said.

"As a result, cheating became more and more prevalent," the indictment said.

By the time the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, as the standardized test is known, was administered in Atlanta Public Schools, "cheating was taking place in a majority of APS's 83 elementary and middle schools."

The allegations, the indictment said, are substantiated by the Georgia Governor's Office of Student Achievement analysis of erasures on standardized tests.

'Suspicious' test score gains

According to the indictment, Hall placed unreasonable goals on educators and "protected and rewarded those who achieved targets by cheating. It also alleges she fired principals who failed to achieve goals and "ignored suspicious" test score gains throughout the school system.

In 2009, Hall was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the Schools Superintendents Association, which at the time said her "leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform."

But the indictment paints another picture of Hall, one of a superintendent with "a single-minded purpose, and that is to cheat," Howard told reporters.

"For example, teachers who reported other teachers who cheated were terminated, while teachers who were caught cheating were only suspended," the indictment alleges.

"The message from Beverly Hall was clear: There were to be no exceptions and no excuses for failure to meet targets."

At the heart of the conspiracy to cheat, the indictment said, was money.

"It is further part of the conspiracy and endeavor that targets achieved through cheating were used by Beverly Hall to obtain substantial performance bonuses," the indictment said.

It also alleges a number of others received performance bonuses based on test scores.

2011: Seven edcuators step down as scandal unfolds

Racketeering and conspiracy

Of the 65 counts in the indictment, Hall and 34 others were charged with one count of violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO.

In addition to racketeering, Hall also is charged with making false statements and writings and theft by taking.

If convicted on all counts, she could face a maximum of 45 years in prison.

Among those also indicted were four of Hall's executive administrators, six principals, two assistant principals, six testing coordinators, 14 teachers, a school improvement specialist and a school secretary.

These Atlanta Public Schools officials are among those named:

-- Millicent Few, director of human resources, is accused of participating in the conspiracy and making false statements during the investigation.

-- Tamara Cotman, a regional supervisor who oversaw dozens of Atlanta's schools, is accused of intimidating witnesses, including a principal and other staff, in an effort to hinder an investigation.

-- Sharon Davis-Williams, who also oversaw a region of Atlanta's schools.

-- Michael Pitts, who oversaw a region of Atlanta's schools, also is accused of intimidating witnesses, primarily staff at Parks Middle School, in an effort to hinder or delay an investigation.

-- Christopher Waller, principal at Parks Middle School in Atlanta, where at least four teachers are accused of conspiring to cheat on standardized tests, is also alleged to have pressured teachers to cheat as early as spring 2006.

-- Armstead Salters, principal of Gideons Elementary School, where at least four teachers say he allegedly pressured them into cheating.

Hall and the 34 others named in the indictment have been ordered to surrender to authorities by Tuesday, said Howard, the district attorney.

Friday, March 29, 2013

School districts can no longer conceal what they pay their attorneys to fight lawsuits

Kyla Doyle sent me the following article. She notes:

"What caught my attention was that it includes "ongoing litigation" so the school districts can no longer deny records act requests just because the case hasn't yet resolved. Ours is still out there--after the denial by the US Supreme Court they are fighting over fees owed to our attorney....while racking up more fees for themselves..."

Here is a snippet of oral arguments in Kyla's case between one of the Ninth Circuit Justices and Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz attorney Jack Sleeth.

Kudos to writer Rex Dalton and Voice of Orange County for covering this story.

When I first glanced at the article below, I was surprised and delighted. I was going to applaud Will Carless of Voice of San Diego for finally writing about secrecy among school attorneys and their allies at San Diego County Office of Education. Then I saw that the story is from Voice of OC, not Voice of San Diego. VOSD continues to protect school attorneys since Emily Alpert left.

Supreme Court Rules Special Ed Litigation Costs Are Public
Voice of OC
March 11, 2013

Related: A 'Brotherhood' Fights Families Wanting Special Ed
Related: Questions Surround Attorneys' Actions in Speical Ed Case

The California Supreme Court has cleared the way for public disclosure of governmental legal costs in ongoing lawsuits where school districts, cities or other public agencies refuse to reveal the bills before litigation is complete.

In Orange County and other jurisdictions, governmental agencies have frequently declined to disclose the costs of ongoing litigation, contending such legal bills are exempt under the California Public Records Act.

But in its Feb. 20 ruling on a Los Angeles lawsuit, the court affirmed a published appellate decision in which judges decided that legal fees can be disclosed when a public records request is made during active litigation.

Terry Franke, an attorney for Californians Aware, an open-access organization in Sacramento, said, “This case properly ends an abuse too often employed to conceal from the public just how much of its money is being spent by lawyers.”

The court decision removes a ploy used by the Orange County Department of Education and a number of the county's 28 school districts to deny disclosure of litigation costs when fighting cases against families seeking special education for youths with disabilities under federal and state laws.

Last year, Voice of OC ran a series of articles showing how school districts were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight families over services that sometimes cost only a few thousand dollars. Such legal battles also created enormous hardships for families and limited options for children with autism and other serious developmental disabilities.

For instance, the Orange Unified School District, working with county education department attorneys, refused last year to release the district’s legal costs after the district sued a family in federal court to prevent paying about $3,400 a year for a preschool for the family's autistic child. The youngster is known only as C.K. in court records.

Recently released Orange Unified records show the district’s legal costs to fight the family totaled at least $236,000. These costs were for an administrative hearing, where the family won service funding, and to sue the family in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

Orange Unified paid a Costa Mesa law firm headed by S. Daniel Harbottle about $83,000 of that total, according to invoices provided by the school district. And because the family of the child defeted the school district’s lawsuit, the federal judge ordered the district to pay their Long Beach attorney, Bruce Bothwell, his court-approved attorney fees of $153,000.

In another case involving an 18-year-old autistic youth in the Garden Grove Unified School District, the school district and county’s attorneys have refused to release the district’s costs in a contentious legal battle that has gone on since 2008.

The youth's guardian aunt has fought for services in five administrative hearings and filed several federal lawsuits against the district for declining to pay for or provide special education services. The family’s litigation costs are in excess of $350,000, they say.

The Garden Grove district's aggressive legal stance was designed to drive the boy out of the school district, alleged the aunt, Alexis Baquerizo. The school district has denied the charge in court.

A spokesman for the Garden Grove district declined comment on the legal ruling. He referred the inquiry to the county education department.

Lysa M. Saltzman, a county education department counsel, declined to address specific questions about the disclosure ruling, writing in an email that any new requests under the California Public Records Act for legal costs in the case will be evaluated based on the recent Supreme Court decision.

School district and county attorneys have argued that cost disclosures could compromise the school district’s legal position and should be treated like legal strategies, which remain exempt from disclosure during continuing litigation.

But last Nov. 16, the California Court of Appeal for the 2nd District ruled that legal fees in continuing cases were disclosable. It was this decision that the Supreme Court let stand while also affirming that the ruling should remain published, thereby serving as a statewide precedent.

“Government officials are not paying for litigation or other legal services out of their own pockets, so there’s no independent check on their spending, which can grow very large very quickly if taxpayers have no way of learning how the bills are piling up,” said CalAware’s Franke.

The decision arose from a civil lawsuit filed by a Bellflower couple in 1999 after they allegedly were improperly held and harassed by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies during a 1998 auto theft investigation.

In a recent interview, Donald W. Cook of Los Angeles, attorney for the couple, said the case easily could have been settled more than a decade ago but the Los Angeles county counsel’s office engages private law firms to litigate seemingly forever as a tactic to discourage plaintiffs.

The couple’s original claim for damages has bounced up and down the court system during the 13 years. Furious over delays, Cook engaged an attorney to sue Los Angeles County for legal costs, which he estimated at about $1 million.

Cook said that certain governmental agencies like Los Angeles County “don’t want the taxpayer to know they are wasting money. The strategy here is to hire a private firm, which milks the case for all it's worth and then bills the taxpayer.”

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County counsel’s office declined comment.

In Orange County, families, child advocates and family attorneys have contended that school district have employed similar tactics for years to avoid providing services required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

A handful of law firms represents the county’s school districts, who look to them as buffers against substantial costs that some special education cases can require. District superintendents claim they must take a hard line to control costs.

The stakes are so high over the issue that Cook suspects governmental agencies may seek legislation in Sacramento in an attempt to amend the state Public Records Act to again block legal fee disclosures.

Expressing concern about the impact of the appellate decision, the League of California Cities filed a letter Jan. 24 urging the state Supreme Court to accept and hear arguments on Cook's case. The league, a Sacramento-based organization of 469 municipalities, fears being swamped by requests for disclosures.

A league attorney, Koreen Kelleher, said she was unaware of any such legislation effort.

Rex Dalton is a San Diego-based journalist who has worked for the San Diego Union-Tribune and the journal Nature. You can reach him directly at

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Even after losing defamation suti, Dr. David McKee seems unaware that he has abused the legal system to torment Dennis Laurion for exercising his right to free speech

Even after losing his defamation lawsuit in the Minnesota Supreme Court, Dr. David McKee seems completely unaware that he has tormented a patient's family for discussing his bedside manner on the Internet. Dr. McKee also claims not to believe that a nurse described him as a "tool".

Many people would consider Dr. McKee to be cowardly and relentless to have dragged a man through the courts simply for taking advantage of his First Amendment rights. The financial resources of the doctor and the man he sued were vastly disparate.

Ticked Off Doctor Sues Patient's Son for Comments About Bedside Manner
By Trisha Torrey Guide
May 16, 2011

In April 2010, Kenneth Laurion, a man in his mid-80s from Duluth, Minnesota, suffered a stroke.

His doctor, Dr. David McKee, must have been a real S. O. B. - abrupt and rude at the very least. As a result, Mr. Laurion's son, Dennis, contacted the powers-that-be to complain. He recounted his experience to groups like the American Academy of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, two physicians in Duluth, Minnesota (where all this took place) the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee and St. Luke's hospital, and others - 19 in total.

Dennis Laurion told those groups that Dr. McKee (quoted here from the Duluth News Tribune):

. . . "seemed upset" that Kenneth Laurion had been transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to a ward room; that McKee told the Laurion family that he had to "spend time finding out if [the patient] had been transferred or died;" that McKee told the Laurions that 44 percent of hemorrhagic stroke victims die within 30 days; that McKee told the patient that he didn't need therapy; that McKee said it didn't matter that the patient's gown was hanging from his neck with his backside exposed; that McKee blamed the patient for the loss of his time; and that McKee didn't treat his patient with dignity.

In return, Dr. McKee got ticked off, defended his actions - and sued Dennis Laurion for making libelous statements.

But the judge dismissed the suit citing the fact that there was no evidence to show the doctor had been harmed, and stated that nothing defamatory had taken place - that his statements seemed to be more about an emotional discussion of the issues.

So what's the take-away for those of us who have had our own run-in with doctors? Plenty.

First - most of us have had our own experiences with arrogant and condescending doctors - doctors who are so full of themselves and their own lives that they treat us like dirt. They need a cummupence of their own. (For them I wish the karma of their own health challenges to give them some flavor of exactly what they are doing to their patients. No harm wished - just karma. They seem to learn really quickly that way.)

And yes - we have the right and perhaps even the obligation to complain, just as Dennis Laurion did. I've written before about how it's incumbent upon us to make sure the right people know how poorly we were treated. It's the only way to instill the necessary attitude adjustments. (If you think about it, I'll bet Dr. McKee will be a little more thoughtful the next time he wants to heap his S. O. B. -ness on another patient or loved one!) The only caveat is that we must recount exactly our experiences - not shade or embellish them. Report problems as if you were a journalist describing the experience - not the emotions, just the facts.

But I also remind you that nice doctors are not the same as competent doctors - and (as one of my twitter doctor friends reminds me) - competent doctors aren't always nice. Sometimes we just have to recognize that getting good medical care might require us to put up (in the short term) with this kind of arrogance, no matter how difficult and disconcerting it might be. That doesn't make it right. It just is what it is.

But the bottom line, to me, is this. . . . decent medical care requires a variety of skills from our doctors including the mechanics of medicine, and the respectful communications that go along with that, too. By reporting the transgressions of Dr. David McKee to those many groups he interfaces with, Dennis Laurion did Dr. McKee's future patients a favor.

Next time around, Dr. McKee will think twice before he accosts his patients and their families with his insulting and callous behavior. And that's as it should be.

February 10, 2013
(12) David McKee says:

Okay let me set you straight on a few things. First, Mr Laurion and I do not agree at all as to what was said and what happened. More importantly, Mr. Laurion (the son, not the patient) contradicted his account of what happened numerous times. No Trisha, I am not a real SOB as you have concluded based on accepting the statements which I sued Laurion over as truthful. If they were truthful I would not have brought the suit forward. Dennis Laurion is a sick malicious bully. He wrote several versions of what transpired in his father’s hospital room, each more slanderous and exaggerated than the last. As an example, in the earliest versions of Laurion’s description, he mentioned, accurately, that I helped his father to a standing position. A later version stated that I pulled his father out of bed; still later that I jerked his father against a closed bedrail and against his will.

[Maura Larkins note: All three versions could be true. Since the father was unhappy to be standing in his skimpy gown, and he knew what kind of gown it was before he got up, it seems quite likely that he was not willing to get up. But really, why make such a big deal out of this sort of thing? Sometimes a doctor does have to demand that a patient stand up so that he knows how well the patient can stand. And it's quite likely that a doctor would not want to use his well-educated hands to tie a dressing gown on a patient--I'm not saying I approve this attitude, just that I think it's a common one.]

Laurion also complained that I humiliated his father by not tying the back of his father’s hospital gown. In fact, Dennis Laurion was sitting in a chair on the same side of his father’s bed as the patient. He would have needed only to lean forward a little to reach the ties of the gown. I was on the opposite side of the bed and could not have reached the back of the gown if I had wanted to.

After I left the patient’s room I was sitting at a nurses station only 30 feet from where Dennis Laurion was sitting and in plain sight. He could have discussed any concern with me then without the slightest difficulty. Instead he chose to begin his smear campaign against me. He fired off 19 letters of complaint within the next few days.

He tried for several weeks to get the local media outlets interested; none would have anything to do with him until he met up with Mark Stodghill of the Duluth News Tribune. The two of them met several times over a 2 week period to come up with a great doctor bashing piece of propaganda. Stodghill placed a call to my office at 4:55 p.m. on a Friday. I was not on call and had left for the day. This was the only attempt he made to contact me. The newspaper article came out only 10 hours later. Still the one half hearted attempt to reach me allowed the reporter to accurately state that “calls to Dr. McKee were not returned”, implying that I had something to hide. The article was so biased that of approximately 80 conversations with patients who brought up the matter, only 2 understood that I was suing Laurion; the rest misunderstood and believed I was being sued by Laurion.

I have been the victim of a cowardly relentless series of attacks by a truly sick human being. The fact that you appear to always assume that if a complaint is made against a physician, the physician must be in the wrong, makes you little better than Mark Stodghill who was willing to use the lowest possible journalistic standards seemingly designed to get the story wrong so as to allow for the most inflammatory headline possible.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Southwestern College board member resigns in protest of secrecy regarding financial information

I've been wondering why school board members ALWAYS accept the corruption in schools, and simply join the club when they get elected. I thought that perhaps the idea of standing up for ethics, the rule of law and the public good had gone out of fashion. But Bill Stewart has proved me wrong.

Several officials have been charged with crimes related to relationships with contractors and Proposition R expenditures, including board member Yolanda Salcido.

How to solve the problem? Recall Yolanda Salcido and replace her with Bill Stewart. And if that doesn't give enough votes for transparency about finances, recall any other board members who are opposing it and replace them with people who believe in transparency.

Bill Stewart served as a Southwestern trustee for four months, December 2012 to March 2013.

Southwestern College trustee resigns in protest
By Susan Luzzaro
San Diego Reader
March 2, 2013

The latest at Southwestern College is the sudden resignation of trustee William Stewart, who gave an exclusive interview to the student newspaper, the Sun, on March 1. He told news editor Thomas Baker that he was quitting in protest; he said he is frustrated with the district’s lack of transparency and lack of shared governance.

Stewart, who is a realtor and a professor of philosophy at San Diego City College, was elected in November 2012 and began serving in December; his campaign rhetoric was optimistic. He told the Sun in October, “I think I bring to the board a very student-centric perspective because the questions are: how are the students being served? Is our budget best focused on meeting the needs of our students?”

Barely four months later, in his letter of resignation addressed to the faculty and staff of Southwestern, Stewart wrote:

“I hoped to bring a level of board oversight that was unprecedented in this district…to provide you, the stake holders, with a true sense of assurance that the numbers with which you were provided were real and reliable. I wanted to provide you with a board member that with certainty could tell you that income projections were reflective of most likely case scenarios, and not worst case scenarios, which can lead to significant underestimations in projected funding.

“I wanted to provide you with assurance that the information on our college expenses provided accurate information on real time savings, and did not look artificially inflated due to positions that were on the books but were not filled. In my judgment, such accurate numbers should not be withheld from anyone and certainly should not be withheld from the scrutiny of the board. Such real numbers should be used as the proper framework by which to plan the future and to work with its employees and their bargaining units. It is my opinion that Southwestern has a precious resource in its employees, not dangerous adversaries.”

Last week, faculty members protested to the board that incorrect data was being used to drive the education plan — which in turn is driving the Proposition R facilities plan.

Prior to Stewart’s resignation, a special board meeting — which many fear will pertain to pink slips — was called for March 4.

Southwestern articulation officer Veronica Burton commented on Stewart’s resignation and on the state of the campus:

...“We have all worked so hard to make positive change and this is a huge setback. We are once again making news because of questionable practices at Southwestern. This further perpetuates the atmosphere of lack of transparency and trust...”

Read more.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Digital Media Law Project at Harvard researches threats to free speech

See Saltzman v. Goddard.

We are the Digital Media Law Project
March 1st, 2013
by Jeffrey P. Hermes

Many of you who have followed the adventures of the Citizen Media Law Project know that we have been contemplating a change of our project's name for quite some time (the eagle-eyed will have seen our new name and logo appearing in stealth fashion here and there on our site and elsewhere). The change from "Citizen" to "Digital" is a profound one for us, reflecting an ongoing discussion within our project (now and hereafter the "DMLP") about the nature of the online journalism and publishing ecosystem and our role in supporting those involved in it.

When our project started in 2007, the disruptive effects of the Internet on the journalism industry were in full swing, while at the same time individuals were realizing the potential of blogs, social media, and other open online platforms to change how we share information of public importance. The ability of individuals to participate directly in meeting the information needs of their communities marked a critical shift in how we communicate on public issues. However, many of those exploring the possibilities of citizen journalism did so with little understanding of the legal risks that they might face, risks that traditional journalism organizations had long understood and for which they had developed extensive risk management strategies.

The "Citizen Media Law Project" was intended to close that information gap, by providing freely available legal information about key issues affecting online speech in a form that could be understood without a law degree. We were also deeply concerned about tracking situations in which citizen journalists were actually threatened with legal action, leading us to create our threats database to monitor the legal challenges being faced by online publishers. These resources have been well received, and we continue to support them now.

However, in the last six years, digital journalism has continued to evolve at an exciting and even dizzying pace. Citizen journalists continue to do excellent work, but professional journalists who believe in the potential of online speech have launched numerous independent ventures as well. Freed from the constraints of traditional media, news projects experiment with sharing news in a wide variety of forms, from a constant torrent of short bursts of information to extended, in-depth investigative pieces - or even a seven-year journal of a walk around the world. Data journalism is realizing the incredible potential of mining vast storehouses of digital information for a clearer view of the world. The channels by which we receive all of this information are in constant development as well, as technology provides new and easier ways of creating, sharing, receiving, and even understanding content.

Of course, the legal challenges of this environment are in flux as well, making it essential that a project such as ours be flexible enough to respond to these challenges. So, while we can predict many fundamental legal issues and provide primers and legal guides, we remain on constant alert for new issues that could affect online journalism as a whole and develop tailored responses to those issues as they arise. When a journalist faces a specific issue and needs direct assistance, we can provide pro bono and reduced fee referrals through the Online Media Legal Network, our network of hundreds of attorneys, law firms, and legal clinics. Our project is no longer limited to addressing the narrow challenges faced by new and inexperienced entrants into the journalism market, but innovating to provide a comprehensive and mutually supporting set of resources to assist digital journalism as a whole.

For these reasons, we are now the "Digital Media Law Project." We are looking forward to all of the challenges that this transition entails, and welcome your participation in this new phase of our existence.

Jeff Hermes is the Director of the Digital Media Law Project.

Defamation case dropped by football player who tweeted photo of unconsious girl who was raped; he didn't like the criticism that followed

"That there was much local coverage at all seems like a small miracle, based on what one source familiar with the Steubenville media told us. The source knew of one instance in which a higher-up ordered a local reporter not to touch the story, apparently out of deference to Steubenville's beloved football program."

How An Alleged Rape Involving Ohio High School Football Players Unfolded On Twitter, Instagram, And YouTube
Tom Ley
Dec 17, 2012

Yesterday's New York Times has a thorough and thoroughly unsettling story about two members of Ohio's Steubenville High School football team who stand accused of raping a drunk and unresponsive 16-year-old girl during a night of partying in August. Maybe most unsettling of all: The girl may never have learned of the night's events had they not been so diligently tweeted, YouTubed, and Instagrammed.

The boys—Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, both 16 years old—were arrested Aug. 22, 11 days after the alleged incidents. They are currently awaiting trial, which is scheduled for Feb. 13. The girl is not a Steubenville High School student; according to the Times, she attended "a smaller, religion-based school."

...That there was much local coverage at all seems like a small miracle, based on what one source familiar with the Steubenville media told us. The source knew of one instance in which a higher-up ordered a local reporter not to touch the story, apparently out of deference to Steubenville's beloved football program.

Mays, a quarterback, and Richmond, a wide receiver, weren't allowed to play this year. But the school's head football coach, Reno Saccoccia—who testified as a character witness on behalf of Mays and Richmond—decided not to discipline any of the other players who testified to witnessing the assault until there were only two games left in the season. When pressed on this by the Times, the coach became combative:

Saccoccia, pronounced SOCK-otch, told the principal and school superintendent that the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties said they did not think they had done anything wrong. Because of that, he said, he had no basis for benching those players.


Approached in November to be interviewed about the case, Saccoccia said he did not "do the Internet," so he had not seen the comments and photographs posted online from that night. When asked again about the players involved and why he chose not to discipline them, he became agitated.

"You made me mad now," he said, throwing in several expletives as he walked from the high school to his car.

Nearly nose to nose with a reporter, he growled: "You're going to get yours. And if you don't get yours, somebody close to you will."

Saltsman v. Goddard
January 17th, 2013
DMLP Staff

In August 2012, two football players from Steubenville High School were arrested and charged with the rape of a 16-year-old girl. Classmates circulated Twitter posts, videos, and photographs indicating that the players may have carried the girl, unconscious, from party to party and sexually assaulted her while others watched. A police investigation uncovered pictures of the girl, naked and apparently unconscious, from partygoers' phones.

Cody Saltsman, a football player who was not indicted, tweeted a picture of the girl looking unresponsive as two boys carry her by her wrists and ankles. He also tweeted comments about the girl, including the phrases "whore status," "sloppy," and "I have no sympathy for whores."

Alexandria Goddard, a blogger who writes under the pseudonym "Prinnie" at, wrote a series of blog posts on the case. She posted screen shots of related Twitter posts and photos. She also suggested that a number of unindicted individuals had participated in the rape, including Cody Saltsman. In response to a comment on her blog reading "students by day ... gang rape participants by night," Goddard wrote, "Cody Saltsman [is] playing tonight. Reno, SHAME ON YOU." She also wrote that his fellow football players should "roll on their pal Cody Manson" and "[p]erhaps when scumbag is finally arrested I will post a picture of him for his mother that says ‘How do you like your scumbag son now?' ... Tell Cody not to feel too bad, he is not the lone asshole in all this."

A number of commenters on the blog also posted about Saltsman, including statements that he was there when the rape was occurring, that he was the "mastermind" behind the crime, that he had previously stated he would "ruin that bitch," and that he had sent the victim's father the picture of her being carried by her wrists and ankles with text reading "look at your whore daughter now." Other commenters made comments including: "[g]et CS and his posy [sic] off the field and problem solved"; "Cody needs to suffr some consequences too!"; and, in response to the question "[w]hat is [the Saltsman's] business because I never want to spend money there," the statement "CS father owns Fort Steuben Plumbing/Maintenance."

On October 25, 2012, Saltsman and his parents, James and Johna Saltsman, filed a complaint against Goddard, fifteen anonymous commenters identified by screen names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (including those who made the above statements), and ten additional John Doe defendants. Saltsman sued for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and sought injunctive relief, compensatory damages in excess of $25,000, and punitive damages. The complaint was amended on November 19, 2012 to add claims for false light and spoliation of evidence.

Saltsman's attorneys obtained the IP addresses for each anonymous commenter from HostGator, the Internet Service Provider (ISP) for the "prinnified" blog, which apparently turned over the IP addresses without providing notice to the commenters or to Goddard. On November 16, the plaintiffs moved for authorization to conduct discovery from each anonymous commenter's ISP in order to obtain the commenters' identities.

Goddard's counsel objected to Plaintiffs' motion for authorization to conduct discovery to obtain the identities of the anonymous defendants, asserting that the First Amendment right to speak anonymously barred such discovery.

In a supplemental memo supporting the motion for authority to conduct discovery, Saltsman disputed that the First Amendment protected the identities of the authors, urged the court to act quickly in order to prevent the ISPs from deleting relevant information, and argued that Goddard had no standing to object on behalf of the Does.

Acknowledging that there were no published Ohio decisions on point, Saltsman directed the court to the often-followed test laid out in Dendrite Int'l Inc. v. Doe No. 3. 775 A.2d 756 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2001). Under Dendrite, courts allow plaintiffs to conduct discovery on anonymous online posters' identities when plaintiffs (1) attempt to notify defendants that their identities are being sought and explain how to present a defense; (2) quote verbatim the allegedly actionable online speech; (3) allege all elements of the cause of action; (4) present evidence supporting the claim of violation; and (5) show that, on balance and in context, the plaintiff's right to identify the speaker in order to redress alleged wrongs outweighs the First Amendment right to anonymous speech. Saltsman asserted that he met all of these elements, particularly focusing on the fifth element, the balancing of rights. Because the First Amendment does not protect false assertions of fact, he argued, the defendants had no right to anonymous speech in this context.

Goddard filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the motion on November 21, and a supplemental Memorandum in Opposition on November 26. Plaintiffs' responded with a second supplemental memorandum in support of their motion on November 28.

The Court filed an order on November 29, granting the plaintiffs' motion. The court authorized the relevant ISPs to release personally identifiable information associated with the IP addresses identified in the complaint. The court required that notice of the discovery be given to the anonymous commenters and that the commenters be given fourteen days after the notice to file motions to quash.

On December 14, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio stated in a press release that they had offered to represent a number of the "John Doe" defendants. ACLU Volunteer Attorney Scott Greenwood stated, "[w]e believe the real goal of this lawsuit is to discover the identity of anonymous online commenters so that they, and future commenters will be intimidated and discouraged from voicing their opinions. This is just an updated form of a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which is typically used to silence speech that is protected under the First Amendment."

Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Goddard and the anonymous commenters and voluntarily dismissed the case with prejudice on December 27, 2012. With one exception (defendant Waguespack), the identities of the commenters were not disclosed. No money was exchanged, and Goddard did not retract any statements or agree to stop covering the case. Goddard did write on her blog that she "never had any evidence of [Cody Saltsman's] direct involvement" in the events of the night and agreed to give him space on her blog to present his side of the story.

The "prinnified" blog also ran the following statement from Cody Saltsman: "I deeply regret my actions on the night of August 11, 2012. While I wasn't at the home where the alleged assault took place, there is no doubt that I was wrong to post that picture from an earlier party and tweet those awful comments. ... At no time did my family mean to stop anyone from expressing themselves online - we only wanted to correct what we believed were misstatements that appeared on Ms. Goddard's blog. "