Judge Saffold

Cleveland Judge, Anonymous Commenter No More

This story is full of intriguing questions and monumental stupidity, all in the name of anonymous commenters on newspaper sites.

It seems a certain “lawmiss” was frequently commenting on Cleveland Plain Dealer stories, mostly about legal matters.  It turns out lawmiss is linked to an email account used by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold—and her 23-year old daughter

The Plain-Dealer decided it was a story that a judge was anonymously commenting on legal matters, including some cases before her.  So it published her name in apparent violation of its privacy policy.  The judge has sued the newspaper for $50 million, saying that all the “lawmiss” comments were posted by her daughter, who accepted responsibility.  But, the judge’s lawyer,

…in an interview with ABC News, acknowledged for the first time Wednesday the possibility that Saffold posted comments under the moniker "lawmiss," which was set up on cleveland.com through an e-mail account used by the judge. Saffold last month denied leaving any lawmiss comments, and her daughter took responsibility for all of them.

First question, why would an educated woman in a sensitive official position be so stupid as to share an email account with her daughter?  Second question, why would a daughter be so moronic as to comment on cases over which her mother presides?  This pair deserves one another.  Third question, did the judge really post some of the comments herslef? 

County records show that three of the comments were left at the same time as someone using Saffold’s court computer was visiting cleveland.com….. The judge acknowledged in an interview last month that such comments would have been improper if she had made them.”

But why did the Plain Dealer out lawmiss?  The judge’s suit claims it was in retaliation for a lawmiss comment that disparaged a reporter’s relative.  (So be forewarned should you in a comment evoke the ubiquitous “mother f****r charge.)  Seriously, I don’t know what the remark was.

[Plain Dealer Editor Susan] Goldberg said last month that the issues raised by lawmiss’ comments outweighed any privacy interests of the poster. [Editor’s note:  Who died and made them God?] Goldberg noted that comments made were not about trifling matters. The posts related directly to two death-penalty cases involving Saffold as judge — the 2008 murder trial of former Cleveland firefighter Terrance Hough Jr. and the case of Anthony Sowell, accused of killing 11 women.

"What if it ever came to light that someone using the e-mail of a sitting judge made comments on a public Web site about cases she was hearing, and we did not disclose it?" Goldberg said last month. "These are capital crimes and life-and-death issues for these defendants. I think not to disclose this would be a violation of our mission and damaging to our credibility as a news organization."

The day the story was published, Sowell’s lawyer requested that Saffold recuse herself from hearing the Sowell case, arguing that the lawmiss comments showed bias. Saffold has not made a decision.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, [the judge’s attorney Brian] Spitz argues that the newspaper’s online editors looked up the lawmiss user registration information as a vendetta, because of the remark left about a reporter’s relative.

OK.  We know many journalists have notoriously thin skins, but why would you decide to out someone just after she disparaged a relative?  Not too much of a stretch for people to think it’s retaliatory.

And exactly what was the newspaper’s privacy policy?

Cleveland.com’s privacy policy was written by Advance Internet, a separate entity affiliated with The Plain Dealer. The privacy policy states, "We may also provide access to our database in order to cooperate with official investigations or legal proceedings, including, for example, in response to subpoenas, search warrants, court orders, or other legal process."

None of those apply except perhaps “other legal process.”   Wide latitude there.  But I think even the Plain Dealer would admit that the reason was journalistic, whether valid or not.

A lot of commenters on the site are outraged that their identities are vulnerable to the newspaper’s whims.  But its policy also states,

"In addition, we reserve the right to use the information we collect about your computer, which may at times be able to identify you, for any lawful business purpose. . ."

In other words, if use f**k a lot, the paper may give your personal information to a porn site!  Seriously, if you mentioned in a comment that you like working in the garden, the newspaper could give your email address to a gardening company.  After all, it’s “lawful business purpose.”

So add to the stupidity hall of fame anyone who thinks their comments will always remain anonymous.

And finally, to add a little irony,

Even as the lawsuit criticizes the newspaper for revealing the e-mail address linked to lawmiss, it says it expects the defendants to identify all anonymous commenters who criticized Saffold on cleveland.com. The suit lists those commenters as John Does and says they also are defendants.

So anonymous commenters, press your shirt, make sure your zipper is up and march on down to the county court.  You are about to live your worse nightmare.