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Family Court Order Restricting Free Speech Rights on the Internet is Dismissed

Posted: July 28, 2009|Category: Free Speech

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Michelle Langlois can use the Internet again to speak about her brother’s court case.

In advance of a scheduled Family Court hearing tomorrow on an ACLU motion to overturn a court order barring the Barrington resident from posting on the Internet any details about a pending Family Court custody proceeding in which her brother is involved, the petitioner in the case has agreed to voluntarily dismiss the complaint prompting the order. In response, Judge Michael Forte, who had initially issued the Internet “gag order” against Langlois, entered an order of dismissal today, effectively rescinding the Internet ban. Thus, Ms. Langlois will be able to resume posting public information about the case on her Facebook page and on the Internet, if she so chooses, without facing contempt charges for violating a court order.

Ms. Langlois’ brother is involved in a child custody case with his ex-wife. After Ms. Langlois posted information about the case on her Facebook page, the ex-wife filed a “domestic abuse” petition against her, claiming that Ms. Langlois’ postings constituted “harassment.” The ex-wife’s petition sought a court order barring Ms. Langlois from posting any information about the case on the Internet. In late June, Family Court Judge Forte issued such an order. When Langlois contacted the ACLU about the matter, the ACLU agreed to provide her representation to challenge the constitutionality of the Internet restriction, and filed a motion last week seeking to have the order rescinded as a violation of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

A hearing on that motion had been scheduled for tomorrow, but has been rendered moot by the ex-wife’s voluntary dismissal of the case. R.I. ACLU volunteer attorney H. Jefferson Melish, who was representing Langlois, said today: “I am extremely pleased that the other side in this case voluntarily agreed to have this order rescinded. Ms. Langlois’ free speech rights have been vindicated, as have the rights of members of the public generally to use the Internet to speak their mind on issues of importance.” At the time of the ACLU’s intervention in the case, Michelle Langlois had said: “I do not believe the truth was coming out in Family Court. I was simply using the internet to publicize my brother’s plight.”

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