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Judge Sanctions Lawyer for Issuing Subpoena to Blogger Kathleen Seidel

June 25, 2008

David Ardia of the Citizen Media Law Project updates us on the Sykes v. Seidel case.

A federal magistrate judge in New Hampshire has sanctioned Clifford Shoemaker, a Virginia attorney, for abusing the legal process by issuing a subpoena to Kathleen Seidel. Seidel publishes the blog Neurodiversity, where she writes about autism issues. In February 2008, she wrote about a lawsuit against various vaccine manufacturers, Sykes v. Bayer, in which the plaintiffs Lisa and Seth Sykes sought to link exposure to mercury to their son's autism. (For more on her statements about the lawsuit, see my previous post: Blogger Kathleen Seidel Fights Subpoena Seeking Information About Vaccine Litigation.)

On March 24, 2008, Shoemaker, an attorney for the Sykes, served Seidel with a
subpoena in connection with the Sykes v. Bayer lawsuit. The subpoena demanded that Seidel appear for a deposition on April 30, 2008, and that she produce a shockingly broad collection of information, including her bank statements, tax returns, communications with religious organizations, and personal correspondence with other bloggers.

On April 21, magistrate judge Muirhead granted Seidel's well argued motion to quash the subpoena. The judge also ordered Shoemaker to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for issuing the subpoena.  In response, Shoemaker filed a rambling opposition to potential sanctions in which he asserted that Seidel was engaged in a conspiracy with Bayer and others to harass him, his client, and various witnesses.  (With the help of Paul Levy from Public Citizen, Seidel filed a restrained response that made Shoemaker's outlandish claims seem all the more, well, outlandish.)

Not surprisingly, the judge didn't buy any of Shoemaker's conspiracy theories and in a strongly worded opinion, made it clear that the subpoena was an abuse of the legal process:

'Mr. Shoemaker made no attempt to avoid imposing an undue burden or expense on Ms. Seidel. To the contrary, I find that he sought to burden her by requiring production of every scrap of paper related to autism, her web site, her tax returns, and her communications with the government...'

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Last updated June 25, 2008

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