A unanimous Appellate Division, First Department, panel has vacated a second-degree identity theft conviction of an attorney who was found to have used online aliases to harass his father’s detractors in an academic debate over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but has left in place convictions of second-degree criminal impersonation, second-degree aggravated harassment and third-degree forgery.
The attorney, Raphael Golb, who was convicted in 2010, was found to have impersonated other scholars who disagreed with his father, at one point sending an email purportedly from one of those scholars confessing plagiarism. On appeal, Golb argued his aliases were intended as parody, and were part of an academic debate protected by the First Amendment. The First Department rejected that argument. “Defendant was not prosecuted for the content of any of the emails, but only for giving the false impression that his victims were the actual authors of the emails,” the panel wrote in its Jan. 29 unsigned opinion in People v. Golb, 2721/09. “The First Amendment protects the right to criticize another person, but it does not permit anyone to give an intentionally false impression that the source of the message is that other person.”
The panel of Justices Angela Mazzarelli (See Profile), Dianne Renwick (See Profile), Rosalyn Richter (See Profile), Judith Gische (See Profile) and Darcel Clark (See Profile) vacated the second-degree identity theft conviction because it relied on the claim that Golb intended to commit a fraud for a personal benefit of at least $1,000. The panel said the record did not support this finding. Golb remains free on bail as he pursues his appeal, according to the Associated Press.