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Thorn-in-the-side blogger to stay anonymous

Concerned Hamburger, the anonymous blogger who comments on and lampoons the Hamburg Central School District, will remain anonymous.

State Supreme Court Justice Diane Y. Devlin Monday quashed a subpoena to Google that would have forced the Internet giant to turn over the name of the person who runs the Hamburg Educational Ethics blog to the school district.

“I think it’s good news for any blogger, any citizen journalist,” said Joseph M. Finnerty, the attorney for Concerned Hamburger.

He argued the subpoena threatened the blogger’s First Amendment rights.

“They went after Concerned Hamburger because they don’t like what he says, because they’re thin-skinned and don’t like criticism,” Finnerty told the judge.

Anonymous speech is protected speech, he said, and one of the hallowed features of America, noting the Federalist Papers were published anonymously.

Richard T. Sullivan, the attorney for the school district, said the subpoena is merely part of the discovery process and the district wants to examine the person who runs the blog.

“We are not seeking to suppress anyone’s right to free speech,” he said in court. “They can blog their brains out. I don’t care.”

The subpoena was issued as part of a lawsuit filed by the district and several current and former board members and administrators over the taping of an executive session on Sept. 21, 2010. The lawsuit claims Sally Stephenson; her daughter, Lyndsey Stephenson; and teacher Martha Kavanaugh secretly taped the meeting, and is seeking damages from them. Sally Stephenson has taken a seat on the School Board since the lawsuit was filed a year ago.

The women deny the charge, and they denied that they created the blog or post to it.

Sullivan said the district has the right to question Concerned Hamburger, who posted a portion of the tape, on how he or she got the tape. Concerned Hamburger and Sally Stephenson both said the tape was found in their mailboxes, the lawyer told the judge.

“There are only four people who have published this tape for their benefit,” Sullivan maintained.

Concerned Hamburger has sworn that he or she is not one of the defendants, and is not the person who recorded the meeting, Finnerty told the judge.

While the judge ruled in Concerned Hamburger’s favor, she did not grant a motion for the district to pay the attorney fees for the blogger.

Sullivan said the court decision will have little effect on the lawsuit. He said the lawsuit will continue even if the School Board, which will have three new members taking office in July, decides to end the district’s involvement. The individuals will continue the lawsuit individually, he said.

The district also has subpoenaed a teacher, Chris Cerrone, who is corresponding secretary for the Hamburg Teachers Association. It dropped subpoenas to Google for the identities of two people who post to the blog, Klozman and Super. Robert Johnstun identified himself as Super. Johnstun, a father who talks frequently at School Board meetings, said he was pleased the subpoena was quashed.

“To me, its amazing news,” he said, but he added, “I’m upset as a taxpayer that it had to come to this.”