Prof. Lawrence Schiffman’s Lawyer Demands Removal of Post Containing the Text of a Court Opinion

Here’s a remarkable e-mail that I received today:

Law Offices of
Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Harris,
Waters & Waffenschmidt
161 West Third Street
PO Box 215
Williamsport, PA 17701

E-MAIL TO: Eugene Volovh [volokh@law.ucla.edu]

FROM: Clifford A. Rieders, Esquire

DATE: March 13, 2013

RE: Lawrence Schiffman

CC: Professor Lawrence Schiffman

Please be advised that the undersigned represents Professor Lawrence Schiffman, previously Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, now Vice Provost of Yeshiva University.

Dr. Schiffman’s name was the subject of illegal and criminal misconduct by Raphael Golb. Your website has been provided to me as one of the locations where the criminal postings occurred.

Please confirm that within five (5) work days of the date of this email the following will occur:

1. Complete removal of the blog material;
2. Removal of index entries on search engines;
3. Cancellation of fraudulent email accounts;
4. Removal of any other mention or reference to Dr. Schiffman by Mr. Golb or anyone responding to him.

We will need your certification as to all efforts made to expunge the material.

I enclose as Exhibit 1 news release by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announcing the arrest of the 49-year-old Raphael Golb for creating multiple aliases to engage in the campaign of impersonation and harassment relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars of opposing viewpoints. Mr. Golb was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation, and aggravated harassment.

I am also enclosing as Exhibit 2 letter from Director, Witness Aid Services Unit, District Attorney of the County of New York, providing a temporary order of protection which the court issued in the aforementioned criminal case.

I am advised that Mr. Golb has been convicted and appeals denied. Unfortunately, there continue to be current blogs containing Golb’s fabricated story, as though Dr. Schiffman acknowledged or admitted some wrongdoing. I am enclosing not only a variety of sampling but also the platform, address and the blog as well as URLs.

Please contact me as soon as possible at …

The offending post, which was attached to the e-mail? It was the one here, which simply quotes the People v. Golb opinion from the New York appellate court, and then offers a First Amendment analysis of the opinion. (As it happens, it endorses the reasoning upholding the conviction of Golb.) [UPDATE: Some commenters asked whether the e-mail might be demanding the removal of some comment to the post; but the first attachment to the e-mail contained just the post itself, and no comments, so I interpret the demand for “[c]omplete removal of the blog material” referred to the post. If the demand was for removal of some unspecified comment or comments, that too would be legally unfounded, under 47 U.S.C. § 230; but what the e-mail pointed was the post, not any particular comment.]

The e-mail from Mr. Rieders of course offers no explanation of how this is a “criminal posting[],” because of course it isn’t. Fortunately, I can tell that there is absolutely zero basis for the demand letter; other recipients of the e-mail might not be so lucky.

I generally do not publish letters sent to me, but unfounded demands such as this are an exception. This is especially so because demonstrating the unsoundness of the lawyer’s argument requires showing the entirety of the letter — both the particular language that the letter included (“criminal postings,” the demand for “[c]omplete removal of the blog material,” the demand for “[r]emoval of any other mention or reference to Dr. Schiffman by Mr. Golb or anyone responding to him,” and so on) and what the letter didn’t include (any specific explanation for why the material would indeed be legally actionable).

In any event, I’m happy to certify that no efforts whatsoever will be made to expunge the material in that blog post; my response to Mr. Rieders and Prof. Schiffman will be a link to this post.