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Child custody case featuring online apology still drawing scrutiny

We recently discussed a family law case that, although from Ohio, has relevance in Florida and every other state in the country (Please see our March 6 blog post). Moreover, and from its inception until now, it has progressively been picking up more comments from constitutional law and free speech experts who say that it raises novel and provocative issues.

As we reported, the case involved a man's diatribe against his estranged wife in a divorce matter centered most centrally on child custody. His venting on his Facebook page -- in which, among other things, he referred to her as "an evil, vindictive woman" -- brought a swift response from a local magistrate, namely, a finding that he was in contempt of a protective order.

The man was offered a choice: sixty days in jail and a fine or a posted apology on the website page that would appear for a month. The apology was actually drafted by the magistrate.

He chose the latter.

After 26 days, though, and saying that the apology "forced me to make false statements," the husband stopped the post, stating that he needed to stand up for his legal rights and was willing to risk jail time and a fine to do so.

The magistrate let the matter slide and called the matter finished.

Many free speech advocates aren't quite ready to let it go, though, saying that such a punishment could set a dangerous precedent in future cases. One noted that compelling speech is as problematic under the Constitution as is placing a bar on it. Others have commented that the case should be a red flag and duly concern every person who engages in social networking online.

As for the husband, he has appealed the matter in state court.

Source: Bloomberg, "Ohio man not jailed for stopping Facebook apology," Lisa Cornwell, March 19, 2012

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