Judge Overturns Ruling on Pittsfield Blogger’s Posts

A blogger based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts has successfully argued to maintain his online freedom.  Today [Monday] a judge overturned an order issued last week that required Dan Valenti to remove material from his website “Planet Valenti” about the driver in an accident that left a pedestrian with a broken neck.

The request for the original order was filed by Meredith Nilan, a 24 year old Pittsfield woman who was behind the wheel during the December accident. The case had drawn public scrutiny from Valenti and others after a clerk magistrate initially found no cause to charge Nilan, whose father is the chief of probation at Berkshire Superior Court.

Nilan testified in court today [Monday] that she received a telephone death threat she believes was inspired by withering criticism of her and the justice system on Valenti’s blog. But Central Berkshire District Court Judge Mark Mason found that Valenti’s online criticism did not amount to a true threat of harm – a standard recognized in state law. Valenti called the ruling a victory for free speech.

“And I feel like I was standing up for every person who writes, blogs, reports and does just what you’re doing right now, covering what you think is an important case and what we do. So we were pleased at the outcome.”

The gag order drew the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a brief on Valenti’s behalf. The ACLU’s William Newman says the case — which galvanized many bloggers — has wide-reaching impact.

“We are of course extremely grateful that the court saw the First Amendment, the risks to the first amendment, that were at stake in this case and vacated the order. This is in fact a big victory, not only in Berkshire County but throughout the Commonwealth, for the First Amendment.”

Valenti says he’ll shortly restore most of his old coverage of the Nilan case, and will continue to post on the topic as events warrant.