I am pretty sure we’ve been paying attention to this case since it was first reported, ten years ago or more, but am too lazy to look in former iterations of this blog to find the reference.
The gears of justice do grind exceedingly slow, don’t they?
The NYT reports:
Raphael Golb’s conviction wasn’t quite like any other: using online aliases to discredit his father’s adversary in a scholarly debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The 9-year-old case got a New York law thrown out and finally ended Monday with no jail time for Golb, who persuaded a judge to revisit a two-month jail sentence imposed earlier in the case.
Appeals had put the jail term on hold and narrowed the counts in his criminal impersonation and forgery conviction in a curious case of ancient religious texts, digital misdeeds, academic rivalries and filial loyalty.
“Obviously, I’m relieved not to be going to jail,” Golb said, adding that he remains concerned by having been prosecuted for online activity he said was meant as satire. “The judge today did the right thing, but the whole thing should have been thrown out nine years ago.”
What a strange story. Norman Golb, a professor at the University of Chicago, had some theory about the Dead Sea Scrolls, other scholars had different ones, so Raphael Golb spent a good many hours attacking his father’s rivals via the internet. I wonder if this ruling will be applied to the political realm, say, to serial aggressors like the folks at Breitbart dot com or The Daily Caller? or in the Shirley Sherrod trial? Mr. Golb was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation for doing what happens on right-wing websites and news organizations each and every day1.
The ancient religious texts have much to say about the divine obligations of a son toward his father, but they are silent on the propriety of using computers, blogs, pseudonyms and Internet sock puppets to fulfill them. For this, there is only the law.
On Tuesday, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, heard arguments in Albany applying the law to Raphael Haim Golb of Greenwich Village, in Manhattan, who for three years used the electronic means at his disposal to impersonate, belittle and accuse the academic rivals of his father, a controversial Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. The law in this case dealt Mr. Golb, 54, a felony conviction and 28 misdemeanor convictions for identity theft, criminal impersonation, forgery, aggravated harassment and unauthorized use of a computer.
According to Mr. Golb’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby, internet trolling is no big deal as long as no money is made:
“Are you really saying this is legal, to send emails in my name, confessing to the assassination of President Kennedy or whatever?” Judge Robert S. Smith asked.
“I wouldn’t,” Mr. Kuby said. “But it would not be criminal. Would it be rude and boorish? Yes.”
What would make it illegal? Mr. Kuby was asked.
Economic benefit, he said. Merely getting “psychic joy” and “savage pleasure” did not count. “Intent to annoy, intent to be obnoxious — that, in and of itself, cannot be criminalized.”
Mr. Rivellese countered that Mr. Golb’s behavior was clearly malicious and criminal, intended to mislead recipients and damage Dr. Schiffman’s career.
Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. pushed the point with Mr. Kuby, asking whether it would be all right for someone to pretend to be Alex Rodriguez and confess to using banned steroids, which Mr. Rodriguez has denied.
“I don’t actually see a criminal problem with that,” Mr. Kuby said.
The ancient texts are silent on the question of steroids and suspensions. On the conviction for impersonating a scholar, the judges will decide.
and some left-wing sites too, to be fair, on a smaller scale [↩]