Beat Up for Blogging?

justice-for-all

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Criminal defense lawyer and blogger Rick Horowitz said something offensive on his blog, which he says, “in retrospect, I even wish I had not said.” This happens all the time. Provocativeness is to blogging as exhaling is to breathing, and the line between provocative and offensive is often quite blurry. Sometimes we all say a little more than we wish we would have.

The difference is that a cop read what Horowitz wrote, got mad, and decided to get even.

Offending the cops

Now, what Horowitz wrote was really offensive. He has gone back and changed it on his blog, but you can still find it in Google’s cache. I am linking to the original post and quoting his words here not because I want to get Horowitz in more trouble, but because I think the words he used are important to understand what happened. Here is what he deleted:

If it’s not about what’s just, or right, then we need another fucking revolution. Let the blood flow through the streets. Let the blood run in the police stations.

And so on. If you read the entire post, you will see that Horowitz was clearly writing in a moment of passion. We all say things we don’t mean when our blood is up. We make death threats we do not intend to carry out. We tell people we love that we hate them (or as my 3-year-old is wont to say, “I’m not your friend anymore!”). We explore in great detail the ways we would like to ruin someone’s life. But we do not intend to take action, even in that moment. We just need to blow off some steam.

I won’t lie: I did intend to be offensive. What I had experienced — which resulted in yesterday’s post — was offensive. What happens far too often in our courtrooms is offensive. I was very offended, and made offensive statements about what offended me.

Horowitz’s blog post was, clearly, his relief valve for that day’s frustration. On reflection, he wished he had not said it. He clearly did not actually want people to start killing cops. He did mean to be offensive, obviously, as he clarified in a follow-up post describing what happened the next day:

[A]s despicable as I find the behavior of a lot of police officers, I will fight them in two places only: the courts, and the courtroom of public opinion.

Unfortunately, deputies at the courthouse took Horowitz quite literally. The day after his offensive post, he was searched, repeatedly, even though he had never been searched before.

They opened my bag, and then opened everything inside my bag, on the pretense that they were looking for “something metal” that showed up in the x-ray machine.

The deputies did not beat him up, but Horowitz and several other lawyers believe they may have planned to:

I suspect that’s just the start. It will not surprise me if something happens to me for what I’ve written. At least a few attorneys — including me — think that there was a plan in place this morning to set up a situation where I could be given a beatdown, which almost certainly would have been followed by criminal charges against me for “resisting arrest,” or “assaulting an officer,” or something similar to that. Because that happens to more people than you could possibly imagine, more often than you would believe. And, as I said, there is reason to believe they were trying to set it up — reason enough that another attorney decided to stick around “just in case.”

Blogging for justice

Horowitz’s experience is a reminder that what you put on your blog can have real consequences. People who disagree with you will read what you put online, especially if you have something interesting to say. I have been a strong opponent of abusive debt collectors on my consumer rights blog, and I know the debt collection industry and their lawyers are reading. Posts from my blog have even been cited in court filings.

I have never been harassed by deputies, but I have definitely been harassed by debt collectors as a result of what I have written. I am comletely okay with that, because someone needs to get accurate information about those issues out to the public, and to hold debt collectors to account for their actions.

Because a blog can be a powerful weapon in the fight for justice. The deputies who harassed Horowitz obviously wanted to punish and silence him. Like most criminal defense lawyers, that was never going to work, but they tried. If they try again, we will hear about it, either from Horowitz or his colleagues. If he winds up beaten or jailed, we will find out, and there will be a line of evidence leading straight to the perpetrators.

The trick is that bloggers are just as likely to suffer for what they write as journalists with a byline in a major publication. Perhaps more likely, because a “little guy” blogger like Horowitz does not carry the implicit threat of a front-page story in a national publication. Only he should, because his story took less than 24 hours to become a national one, even if it is not on the front page of the New York Times.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are only writing for yourself on your blog. All it takes is a single link in the right place to thrust your small blog into the national spotlight. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. Be careful what you write, because it can have a huge impact.

Horowitz’s first post had a huge impact — although he probably wished it didn’t. The more important post is his second, though, where he calls out the deputies for their deplorable behavior. He stood by what he wrote and kept writing when others would have been cowed into silence. I admire him for that, because it takes guts to keep putting yourself out there under threat. If you aren’t willing to do that, though, do not start a blog. What would be the point?

More on Horowitz’s experience:

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3517189608/)

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  • Jack

    If they can get away w/ screwing w/ a criminal lawyer, imagine how everyone else feels! We need a strategy to get our legislature on board to clip the wings of corrupt police.

  • http://www.rhdefense.com/ Rick Horowitz

    I took that language down because on reflection, I found it almost as offensive as the people who were angered by it.

    I still do, and I am sorry you felt the need to post it.

    When I talk to gang members about fighting cops — which I do — I always make clear to them that I’m talking about organizing themselves politically. In California, laws that allow the police to harass gang members do so on the basis that gangs do not associate for political reasons. So I always tell the gang members that they need to stop fighting with one another and organize politically. I try to explain the potential political power if the thousands of people marked as gang members did so.

    Of course, that, by itself, is rather a simplistic thing. Gangs arise for political reasons, but most people — and particularly gang members — do not realize that.

    In fact, I believe the California courts are wrong to say that gangs are not political organizations. That “politics” is not their stated reason for coming together, it is actually the fact that this is what they are doing; they come together because of their common purpose of attempting to survive in a culture that exploits their neighborhoods and minimizes their humanity.

    It may seem that I digress here. The point, however, is that in a moment of extreme anger, I used some very provocative, albeit subjunctive, language. It angered not only people I despise (bad cops) but also people I respect (good cops). I regret using that language, and I am — as I said — sad that you felt the need to resurrect it.

    • Jack

      @Rick, I think your experience and all your comments touched upon the frustrations Americans everywhere are feeling. I live in Austin where Antonio Buehler has been fighting bogus charges for video-taping police abusing women at a traffic stop for over a year. The bottom line is, it’s getting worse and will continue to until we all stand up. Corrupt police seem to think the party will never end, your comments show EVERY one is sick and tired of their crap.

      Gideo @http://apublicdefender.com/2013/03/08/in-capitalist-america-power-abuses-you/ put it nicely:
      “There is a police state creep in America that’s happening under our own noses and no one says anything because ‘that would never happen to me, only to criminals.’ Rick Horowitz is no criminal.”

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I have a lot of respect for the way you blog. People who experience injustice have to talk about it as loudly as possible for anything to change. You’re doing that, which takes determination and guts.

      I did not publish your original language to upset you. I published it because, without it, this story has a huge, gaping hole. It is necessary context.

      And, quite frankly, I think what you wrote is completely understandable, in context. You’ve apologized and taken it back, as you felt you needed to, but that doesn’t mean you and everyone else should pretend you didn’t write it.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi Tsakalakis

    All tyranny a police state needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to … remain silent.

  • Ronald Tocchini

    Out of respect for Rick Horowitz’s wish to put (at least parts of) this matter behind him, I have not read the original blog post. However, I feel pretty comfortable with my understanding of what type of conflict he had, as well as his subsequent frustration, “explosion”, and embarrassment. If nothing else, I’ve litigated in Fresno County, which can involve a pretty surreal experience.

    What really interests me about this story is the interplay between what I feel are two very important topics: the (mis)use of power and the social function we serve as officers of the court.

    It often seems as though it’s in vogue to lament the decline of a once-honorable profession – law school consumer fraud, discovery abuse, rampant attorney unemployment, and so on. I’m unsure that an accurate historical review would really support the proposition that things were significantly different (or better) at some utopian point in the past, but it seems safe to say that many of us are worried about the changing social roles of lawyers.

    This is not to say that these concerns are unwarranted or unimportant, but I thought that this article and its follow-up dialogue, especially the comments by Sam Glover and Rick Horowitz, were both extremely uplifting.

    We are the guardians of justice in our society. Sometimes, in the pursuit of our calling, we make powerful enemies. It’s often (at least intellectually) easy to rage against the dying of the light (apologies to Dylan Thomas) in such circumstances. However, to simultaneously and introspectively govern my own behavior, and to take responsibility for having acted poorly, is much more difficult for me to do, especially when I’ve become angry for good reason at the misbehavior of others. I admire Mr. Horowitz for having the integrity to hold himself to the same high standards of behavior that his role as a lawyer requires him to apply to other people.

    Any thug with a club, or a gun, or even a law license, can threaten or bully other people to achieve a just result. It takes real strength of character to resist poor behavior when the ends so temptingly justify the means.

    Maybe they will rough you up. They’ll undoubtedly make your life difficult if they feel threatened by you. For what it’s worth, I’ve inferred that the reactions to what you wrote reflect an overly sensitive viewpoint. Then again, I’ve never gone into a dark building at night to break up an armed robbery.

    The important thing is that you ultimately conducted yourself with dignity and grace. Your example is inspiring to me, and makes me quite proud, if not to know you, then to be your colleague. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We watch ourselves.

  • http://gsdimartino.com guy dimartino

    I like to read Rick’s blog but his comments were inappropriate, not because he called the police out, but because of the way he did it. We have all heard it – it’s not what you say, its how you say it. As lawyers, we know that we should not write or hit the “send” “post” button until we calm down. We tell this to our clients all the time.
    A couple of years ago, in Florida there was a lawyer who posted something about what transpired in court on a list serve. The comment had something to do with the fact that the person who made the decision rode a broom. The lawyer was sanctioned because in fact the person who made the decision did not ride a broom – I hope everything works out for Rick on this one.

  • naught_for_naught

    “or as my 3-year-old is wont to say, “I’m not your friend anymore!”
    That’s why we don’t admit 3-year-old children to the bar or give them blogs. An licensed attorney should have a bit more impulse control than an infant.

  • VD

    Rick’s original comment was neither offensive or false, it was incisive and true. Regardless the post increased readership and seo and that’s all that counts in the blawgoshere. In the real world, Fresno’s finest fascists will continue to run roughshod on the criminally accused’s constitutional rights and (apparently) the rights of the attorneys notwithstanding the yeomen work of Rick.