Pointing to First Amendment rights, a divided South Florida appeals court Wednesday overturned an injunction that state Sen. Lauren Book had obtained against a man she accused of cyberstalking and harassing her.
The case involves Book, a Plantation Democrat who is a widely known advocate for victims of child abuse and sexual abuse, and Derek Logue, an outspoken critic of sex-offender laws. After Book accused Logue of cyberstalking and harassment, a Broward County circuit judge last year issued an injunction that included a series of requirements designed to prevent Logue from having contact with the lawmaker or threatening her.
But Logue appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal, where a panel, in a 2-1 decision Wednesday, overturned the injunction on free-speech grounds.
In part, the ruling said Logue posted on his website information such as Book’s home address and posted on social media a cartoon that depicted a tombstone with an obscene reference to Book. But the ruling said he did not communicate directly with Book about the posts, a requirement under state law for an injunction against stalking or cyberstalking.
“Florida case law has mandated that threats via social media be directed to the individual — not by content, but by delivery — to fall within the purview of (the law),” said the seven-page majority opinion by judges Melanie May and Mark Klingensmith. “The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and expression, even if distasteful and vulgar. Although the appellant’s (Logue’s) position may be socially abhorrent, he has a First Amendment right to express his views. While we understand and appreciate the appellee’s (Book’s) fear, the First Amendment protects the appellant’s despicable speech and his right to make it. For this reason, we must reverse the injunction.”
May, however, wrote a concurring opinion that appeared to suggest uneasiness, saying that perhaps “thought should be given to whether the law should provide some protection for those at which social media directs its attention.”
“I concur with the majority because Florida’s statutory scheme and case law dictates the outcome,” May wrote. “I write to express my concern that in the day and age in which we live social media postings, such as those involved here, have led people to lash out and wreak havoc on our children, families, friends, and communities.”
Judge Cory Ciklin dissented but did not issue a written opinion.
A footnote in the majority opinion said an Alabama court in 2001 convicted Logue of improper relations with a minor. Book, who suffered sexual abuse by a nanny when she was a child, leads the advocacy group Lauren’s Kids, along with her role as a lawmaker.
In addition to the online posts, Book also testified in circuit court about other instances of alleged harassment, including Logue protesting at a children’s march in Tallahassee. But the appeals court said the protest “served a legitimate purpose even as objectionable as it may be.”
“The appellant’s Tallahassee protest was by all accounts peaceful — even if unpleasant in its scope and message,” the ruling said. “Each party is a vocal advocate for opposite positions on sex offender laws. This is an issue currently debated within what (former U.S. Supreme Court) Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once described as the ‘free trade in ideas.’ True, one side of this debate has far greater public support than the other, but that does not make the appellant’s advocacy illegitimate.”