Lemon Juice (Jesse Ward/New York Daily News)
A man falsely charged with posting an in-court photograph of a 12-year-old sexual assault victim is entitled to information that could identify the culprit who apparently assumed his identity and shared the picture on Twitter, a Brooklyn judge has held.
Supreme Court Justice Francois Rivera (See Profile) held that the conduct of whoever posted the picture evinced such “atrocious malice” that the First Amendment provides no shield. Rivera ordered Twitter Inc. to reveal information that would allow the plaintiff to identify the individual who posted the photograph.
Rivera’s decision centers on a man named Lemon Juice and stems from the controversial trial of Nechemia Weberman, a Satmar rabbi and unlicensed counselor convicted of molesting a girl to whom he was supposedly providing spiritual guidance. Weberman’s trial led to considerable dissension in the Hasidic community, with some members taking the side of the rabbi and others supporting the victim.
Despite an order from the trial judge, Supreme Court Justice John Ingram (See Profile), someone photographed the girl as she testified and posted the photograph to Twitter under the handle LemonJuice@moseh718.
Juice, the plaintiff in this case, was arrested and charged with conspiring with two trial observers to violate the ban on photographs in the courtroom. Juice insisted he had nothing to do with the incident and, after making at least 14 court appearances on the second-degree contempt charge, was exonerated when the Kings County district attorney’s investigation showed he had no connection to the LemonJuice@moseh718 account.
Now, Juice is attempting to pursue an action for intentional infliction of emotional distress against whoever appropriated his identity. He sought orders compelling Twitter to disclose basic subscriber information sufficient to figure out who owned the account in question, and an order requiring Twitter to preserve documents, including the image of the victim that was posted on the account.
In a decision Aug. 29, Rivera granted the motion.
“The court finds that the behavior of the creator of the subject Twitter account was so extreme and outrageous that it went beyond all possible bounds of decency,” Rivera wrote in Lemon Juice v. Twitter Inc., 502898/14. “In naming the account ‘LemonJuice@moseh718,’ the creator gave the public the false impression that Lemon Juice was the owner and operator of the account. The creator then obtained a digital image of the infant victim while she was testifying against her rapist in direct violation of a court order.”
Rivera said the creator’s conduct “was especially heinous” because it “created the false impression that Lemon Juice was attempting to expose, humiliate and intimidate the infant victim while she was in the process of testifying against her tormentor.”
The court said Juice has demonstrated that he has a meritorious case for intentional infliction of emotional harm to the extent necessary to trump any First Amendment protections, including the right to speak anonymously.
Rivera said “the anonymity of the creator must yield to Lemon Juice’s need to redress the actionable wrong perpetrated against him.” He said the conduct of the creator is “not to be tolerated in a civilized community,” citing the damage Juice suffered to his reputation, a brief loss of liberty when he was arrested, and the “unwarranted criminal prosecution” resulting from the “creator’s attempt to frame him.”
Solomon Antar, Albert Antar and Leopold Gross, all of Brooklyn, represent Juice in the civil action. Twitter, which opposed the motion, is represented by Jeffrey Vanacore, of counsel to Perkins Coie.
Brooklyn attorney Leopold Gross, who defended Lemon Juice in the criminal matter and is assisting Antar in the civil case, said that Rivera “recognized that the First Amendment will not protect” cyberbullies and carefully balances the free speech rights of the creator and the rights of his client.
“The decision is significant because Justice Rivera recognized that a tortfeasor who engages in malicious conduct aimed to cause harm to another will not receive protection under the First Amendment,” Gross said.
In a statement, Juice said: “Justice Rivera’s decision emphasizes the many hurdles I had to overcome to get my criminal case dismissed. But just as I won my criminal case, I am convinced that I will win my civil lawsuit against the nefarious individuals who framed me up for criminal prosecution. I am pleased that Justice Rivera recognized that false criminal prosecution constitutes heinous, extreme and outrageous conduct that is not tolerated in a civilized society.”
Vanacore referred questions to Twitter. There was no immediate response from the social media network.