Yelm NV News: JZ Knight lawyers sought too much information!

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Yelm NV News: JZ Knight lawyers sought too much information!

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JZ Knight lawyers sought too much information
RSE ex-students do not have pastoral or medical privileges
By Steven Wyble

Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 4:07 PM PDT
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Gary Tabor ruled last week a Facebook group made up of ex-students of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment does not have pastoral or medical privileges prohibiting the release of information on its members. But, he added a subpoena sent to Facebook by lawyers representing JZK, Inc. was “overbroad.”

His ruling allows the release of IP (Internet protocol) and MAC (media access control) addresses related to members of the group.

The hearing stems from the case between JZK, Inc. and Virginia Coverdale, a former RSE student.

Last October, Coverdale uploaded a video to YouTube that showed Knight making disparaging comments about Catholics and gays. Representatives of the school said the comments were taken out of context.

RSE sued Coverdale for breaching a contract she signed when she was a student at the school that prohibits students from disseminating material received from the school. Coverdale argues the contract doesn’t apply because she received the video on a flash drive anonymously sent to her in the mail and not from the school.

JZK, Inc.’s lawyers subpoenaed Facebook for information on members of the Facebook group Enlightened Europa, a self-described recovery group made up of ex-RSE students who believe the school is a cult. The information sought in the subpoena included IP and MAC addresses, billing records, email addresses, identifying information, date the account was established, addresses and phone numbers.

Yelm lawyer Breckan Scott, who represents EE, argued the group is a recovery group akin to Alcoholics Anonymous and said the group’s identifying information is legally protected.

Tabor didn’t find that the privileges claimed by the group applied, but said he did feel the subpoena asked for more information than was needed.

“I believe the subpoena was overbroad,” he said. “I believe that there were requests made that delve into areas that are inappropriate and so I am going to redraft this subpoena.”

Tabor said he would allow Facebook to release IP and MAC addresses, and nothing else.

“I want to indicate that I don’t find that there is a particular privilege that prohibits (the release of) any information of this group Enlightened Europa,” Tabor said, noting that members of the group had alleged priest-penitent and doctor-patient privileges within the group.

The priest-penitent privilege “deals with an alleged minister and people within a particular religious following,” Tabor said. “I do not find that exists here today.”

He said he also didn’t find that a doctor-patient or HIPAA protection applied to the group.

“Based upon the arguments that I’ve heard, there is no showing about private information regarding health that would be disclosed in a context in which there weren’t lots of other people hearing it,” he said.

That doesn’t mean people in the group don’t have privacy concerns, he said.

“I understand that people do have privacy interests and I have tried to balance those interests here in a way that I feel is appropriate,” he said. “So I did consider privacy issues. I did consider what the plaintiffs were trying to search for and it would appear to me, although I’m surely not the one that makes this decision, that if a IP address that is produced from this subpoena matches an IP address from somebody that gained access (to an RSE livestream event) inappropriately, there may be follow-up subpoenas issued.”

Tabor said the plaintiff requested he strike the declarations of EE members, but he declined to do so.

“I think that there are some relevant things to people’s concerns that they’ve expressed,” he said, while noting that the declarations sometimes “went way overboard” by implying manipulation of the legal system or by straying off the focus of the case. He emphasized his ruling had no bearing on free speech, and reiterated the case is about an alleged contract violation.

“Judge Dixon, who is my predecessor in this case, has indeed issued a restraining order that restrains anyone from disseminating material that would be a violation of a contract,” he said, later adding, “(W)hen a court has ruled on something, if the court’s wrong, there can be a review of that on some other level, but now is not the time to be arguing for things that don’t apply in the context of what I have to decide today.”

Tabor said his ruling “allowed intervention” on behalf of EE, “but it is only for the limited purpose of contesting this subpoena, for no other purpose.”

EE’s motion for protective order requested JZK, Inc.’s lawyers divulge whether they have a member of EE providing them with information on the group “surreptitiously.” Tabor denied that motion.

He said the plaintiff indicated that wasn’t taken place and said there wasn’t a sufficient showing there was. “There has only been some speculation that that might be taking place and that does not give me a sufficient basis to order such a protection order so I am not doing so today.”

Tabor acknowledged emotions run high in the case, but requested all parties focus narrowly on the issues involved.

“If I had a magic wand — which I don’t — that I could wave, I would tell everybody we all just need to take a deep breath and we need to try to get back to what this case is really about, rather than all of these side issues that people feel strongly about,” he said. “I’m going to tell you that when this case goes to trial, it will be my duty to try to limit the material that is relevant to a limited issue and not other things, although people want to speak about things and I think they have a right to do that on either side.”

He said the fact that more than 30 pleadings for the hearing were filed in one day was “troubling,” and pointed out the page limits noted in court rules.

Scott asked Tabor to clarify whether the limits of the Facebook subpoena applied to other organizations, such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

“I’m not today authorizing that,” Tabor responded. “That would be another subpoena.”

Scott clarified that she thought it would be fine for JZK, Inc., to subpoena ISPs for more information if they matched an IP address from EE to RSE’s live stream event, but said she objected to them subpoenaing ISPs for the information Tabor struck from the Facebook subpoena.

“I don’t want that to happen unless I approve it,” Tabor said. “So any subpoena regarding further information about IP addresses needs to come back before it would be authorized.”
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