Published on February 25th, 2012 | by Kim LaCapria0
Judge Forces Ohio Man to Apologize to Estranged Wife on Facebook, Sparking First Amendment Concerns
Family court and criminal court vary tremendously in scope and in which rights are afforded those who stand before judges, and a recent case where a man was forced to apologize to his estranged wife via Facebook has caused some concern about free speech in general.
The details of the case are not entirely open to press due to privacy statutes surrounding cases relating to child custody and the like, but back in November, Ohio resident Mark Byron updated his Facebook status to read:
“If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s life and take your son’s father away from him completely- all you need to do is say you’re scared of your husband or domestic partner and they’ll take him away.”
While Byron’s comments were privacy-locked so his wife (the mother of the man’s 17-month-old son) could not see them, an Ohio judge found that the comments violated a protective order. Byron- who maintains that his wife Elizabeth does not adhere to a custody order mandating he receive twice-weekly visits with his son- was given a choice to either apologize to his estranged spouse in the midst of their bitter divorce publicly on Facebook, or head to jail for 60 days.
Lawyers for Byron and other lawyers not involved in the case have cited First Amendment protections as well as the idea that judicial intervention to compel speech is just as disturbing as restriction of freedom of speech. Becky Ford, a lawyer for Byron, commented:
“In a million years I didn’t think he’d be found in contempt… He did nothing but vent. She didn’t like what he had to say. That’s what this boils down to.”
As the post was made in a place where Byron’s wife was deliberately excluded from viewing the commentary, an argument can likely be made that she sought out the man’s Facebook page- perhaps even for an edge in court. Do you think a judge should have any say over what individuals can and cannot say on their own Facebook pages?