Update on Davey (Watchdog) and Goliath (FBC Jax)

"There was a giant who was bullying and harassing the children in the village. One day, a 17-year-old shepherd boy came to visit his brothers and asked, "Why don't you stand up and fight the giant?" The brothers were terrified and they replied, "Don't you see he is too big to hit?" But David said, 'No, he is not too big to hit, he is too big to miss.' The rest is history." http://motivationalsite.blogspot.com/2008/02/david-and-goliath.html


Fellow bloggers — as many of you know, there has been a saga unfolding in Florida that is reminiscent of the Old Testament account of David and Goliath.  For those of you not familiar with this case, please read this article in the Florida-Times Union which contains a synopsis of what occurred. 


For even more details, we encourage you to read our extensive coverage under the category "FBC Jacksonville". Blogger Tom Rich (aka FBC Jax Watchdog, fondly known as DAWG) recently provided an update on his First Amendment Lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville.


Here are the highlights (in bold):


The first amendment lawsuit has been going through the "discovery" process since about March of this year, and discovery will be wrapping up over the next month or so. If this lawsuit ever makes it past summary judgment, and past mediation, it would likely go to trial sometime in 2011.


As you might recall, the judge in this case issued a lengthy ruling back in April in response to the defense's motion to dismiss (see Wade Burleson's post). As I understand it, the judge in this ruling clearly established a First Amendment right for anonymous speech, and the judge said if my allegations in the original complaint were true, that a violation of the First Amendment would have occurred. So the case was allowed to proceed to determine if our allegations were true, and the defense would have a burden to show they did have a legitimate governmental purpose in uncovering my identity. That is what the defense is doing, and doing vigorously as one would expect.


Thus far there have been many depositions. My count is around 23 or 24, that have taken hours and hours. I have sat in just about every deposition given. Depositions are bascially out-of-court question and answer sessions where the opposing attorneys drill you about your knowledge of the case. They want to know what facts the witness has, and what the witness' testimony will be if the case goes to trial. There is a court reporter present, and you are sworn under oath to tell the truth.

I gave my deposition first, and they kept me for about 8 hours. My wife's deposition was maybe 3 or 4 hours. The other long deposition was Detective Hinson's, which was about as long as mine.


Most of my extended family members were deposed by the city. They were asked questions about me, about my blog, about my marriage, about their blogging habits, my mental state, and anything else the defense wanted to ask them.


The Brunsons have been deposed. Robert Hinson, the JSO Detective involved, and Steven Seigel the Assistant State Attorney have been deposed. John Blount, the church administrator gave his deposition. Even under-sheriff Frank Mackesy and Sheriff John Rutherford gave their depositions in this case. A few FBC Jax members and a former FBC Jax minister were deposed as well. But what started out as me wanting answers, for me has progressed to realizing the importance of this case to First Amendment rights of anonymous writers in general, and the rights of bloggers in particular. I didn't really comprehend the importance of the case until depositions were given by the defense witnesses, and as I have begun to understand the defense tactics of the city of Jacksonville lawyers. It is an important case, a very unique case.


In my view, if the defense prevails, this would have an incredibly chilling effect on free speech, especially critical, unpopular speech, on the Internet. What is next? There is more discovery, probably a few more depositions, then motions for summary judgment I expect will be made, and then court-appointed mediation sometime in the fall. If the case makes it that far, then I expect a trial sometime in 2011.


Tom posted this update last Saturday (8/21), and there have been quite a few comments, which have been mostly supportive.  However, as you might imagine, Tom has his critics, such as this comment from "Anonymous" (who is protecting his own identity):

"Mean Ol' Mac hurt my feelings…waaa…I am going to start a blog…waaa…I am going to get him back..waaa…I am going to write a book about all these mean people….waaa….




Of course, this Anomymous commenter was roundly criticized in the remarks that followed.  Here are some of those responses:

"Isn't the depth of Mac defenders amazing? They always focus on contextual debate and have such scholarly insights. (wink)

Must come from all the deep teaching they hear at FBCJax."


Then Johnny D addressed "Anonymous" as follows:

":-) That's funny. Isn't it amazing how some people can't see the first amendment issues here? Whether you like Tom or not is really irrelevent. What is not irrelevent is the unmasking by city and church officials, working together, of an anonymous blogger.


It is interesting how you posted your little baby rant anonymously. Is that because you value your privacy, or because you have nothing to add other than trying to intimidate Tom by what amounts to calling him a cry baby? Anyhow, Tom, thanks for the summation. It's all very interesting, and I can only hope justice is done. Nothing less than your full vindication will suffice for me. City and church officials have absolutely no business working together to unmask an anonymous blogger – unless you were making threats on this blog. It is CLEAR you were not. Nothing else matters in this case. Free and anonymous speech will either win the day, or we will continue to watch our freedoms be eroded. I know what I wish for. Do you, anon?"


We will continue to follow this First Amendment case and keep you updated with future developments.  In the meantime, please pray for justice to prevail.  We leave you with some thought-provoking remarks from two anonymous commenters.


(1)  "Johnny D, right on right on. What the left use to say about freedom of speech is no longer in vogue. It's all about the powers that be whether they be governmental, political, or religious. The America most of us know, love and in many cases have defended, is being eroded brick by brick. Individual freedoms are and have been under attack for years and the church has joined in this fray by no longer holding to the Bible fact that all saved people are members of the priesthood. Its all about the "pastor" having the authority over EVERYONE…"


(2)  "…when the blogger found out the JSO was used and the SAO was used, he sought to find out what happened. Then city lawyers were used to go on a fishing expedition hoping to be able to backtrack and find something, anything, that would support (1) or (2) above. And after 20 plus depositions of everyone but the WD's mailman, they still have nothing to explain what they did when they did it. But have they been successful in chilling free speech? Sure. Who wants to get sued and go through all Tom has gone through if there pastor won't answer some simple quesions about $307,000 land gifts from a family who later had a commercial played during the morning service? The church, police, SAO and city have made their point: "We are all in this together to make you sorry you ever criticized the mega church pastor!" Message received. Fortunately, Tom and his lawyer are making theirs, and so far, the Federal Judge has too, which is this: "Speech, especially controversial, critical free speech, is a fundamental right that is worth fighting for and worth protecting so that the good old boys can't trample on it when it suits them."


Update on Davey (Watchdog) and Goliath (FBC Jax) — 2 Comments

  1. Tomas and all

    Tomas said “The blog was recommended to me and I’m very excited”.

    Tomas, who recommended the blog?