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It seems that I am being tried on the internet by anonymous individuals that make up fictitious legal cases of so-called “history making” lawsuits. I characterize them as fictitious because to date, even though this supposed announcement was made nearly a month ago that the suit had been filed by Ronald Federici, I have not been served with any legal papers, nor have I been approached by anyone attempting such service, nor have any of the parties named been served with any of the “documents” posted on that blog and he knows good and well how to find some of these parties because he has sued them before. This is not the first time such an attempt has been made to anonymously claim nonexistent legal cases along with other blatant lies such as the lie I was fired from Florida State University when in fact, I graduated, have good student evaluations, left in good standing and have the references to prove it.

First, beginning in late June following Ronald Federici’s multiple losses in small claims court against some of my colleagues (I was not sued in those cases), I received a number of anonymous threats that criminal charges were being filed against me in Virginia, ironically for harassment by computer. I say ironically because it is painfully obvious to anyone following this saga that I am the one who is being harassed by computer. This is a classic tactic of an abuser, to attempt to turn things around and blame the victim.  For months, anonymous postings were made lying that a report had been made to the magistrate in Virginia, that I had been charged, arrested, put in jail, was awaiting extradition and all kinds of other nonsense that was completely fictitious. Any background check on me will reveal that I have no criminal record whatsoever and have never been charged with anything, not even traffic violations.

Then, suddenly without explanation, this particular fictitious series stopped and was supplanted with yet another series of lies that I was being sued in a civil case. An entire anonymous blog has been created about this so-called “history making lawsuit” yet none of the parties listed, to date, have been served with any of the papers listed. To counter act this objection, lies are now being posted that I am running from being served papers. No, the fact is I have not been served any of the papers, nor has anyone approached me or attempted to serve me with papers, nor have any of the parties listed and the individual in question, Dr. Ronald Federici, definitely knows how to reach the other parties (Advocates for Children in Therapy, Charly Miller, Jean Mercer) because he sued them before in small claims court and lost, so the excuses about lawyer changes are rather lame. Additionally, this “case” is not valid because he lost the cases against these individuals and his only option is to file an appeal, not a new case with my name at the top! So far, all we have received are repeated threats. Obviously someone is trying very hard to silence criticisms against Ronald Federici, especially those on the website of Advocates for Children in Therapy.

Of course, anyone can actually sue anyone for anything at any time, but winning such a case is another matter and more and more, courts are exacting penalties for frivolous lawsuits, making the plaintiffs pay. It is oh so much easier to simply make up a trial on the internet. WordPress’s policy allows for this, since in order to have a false blog removed, one must produce a court order and most of us are not wealthy enough to go about obtaining court orders. Note I am not criticizing WordPress for this because if they didn’t have this policy, legitimate blogs could be easily wiped out, but I’m just sayin…this is a lesson for people to not believe everything that comes up on Google searches or on WordPress blogs, especially anonymous blogs where the person will not put his or her name to statements being made and can get away with writing  just about anything and thus, not be held accountable, as someone who uses their name would be.

I also need to add that in spite of this drawback on lack of accountability for remaining anonymous, I am not opposed to people posting anonymously and agree with the EFF, that people need to retain their right to do so. This offers protection for legitimate whistleblowers who might not otherwise come forward and expose abuses. However, people also need to recognize that the abusers can and will take advantage of this right and the social psychology literature contains solid evidence that when people are anonymous, they are much more likely to be abusive and commit acts they would not have committed, if they not been anonymous.

History making lawsuit? Hardly. To date, all we have is a mock trial by internet. If you don’t have a winnable case, just make one up! It’s easy and can be done very cheaply with the click of a mouse. First there were SLAPP lawsuits, which were bad enough. These days, there is trial by internet, which is easy to do and lacks the expenses and penalties of a SLAPP lawsuit. More about this smear campaign can be found here.

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In light of recent threats that have been made lately about another so-called history making lawsuit allegedly by Ronald Federici (although thus far no parties have been served and the alleged documents have been posted by an anonymous individual on an anonymous WordPress blog) against Advocates for Children in Therapy, their officers and an advisory board member, I thought it would be useful and instructive to review another lawsuit that revolved around the issue of internet free speech, namely the right to post criticism on a website, The Gentle Wind Project (GWP) v. Bergin and Garvey. This case was dismissed. GWP lost. While I realize that this case is not identical, of course, it is nevertheless instructive. One big difference is that the GWP people are not licensed mental health professionals so they cannot be held to the same standards of accountability, but still, they not only lost. They ended up in big trouble with the State of Maine.

Details of this lawsuit can be found on Bergin and Garvey’s website http://www.windofchanges.org/ which is the website that was at the center of this lawsuit. GWP also sued Rick Ross and Steven Hassan for putting links on their websites and GWP. The case against Rick Ross was dismissed and Hassan settled out of court by agreeing to remove the links on is website in exchange for them removing derogatory material about him, so Steve Hassan’s willingness to settle is the one way in which they did succeed in silencing him, but it really is a moot point because all the other parties are free to criticize GWP, including the main parties, Bergin and Garvey.  The website remains up, complete with all of their original criticism of GWP, plus details about this fascinating and history making case. The ruling stated that Bergin and Garvey are allowed to keep the website up and the settlement states that they cannot be sued again by GWP.  Click here to read a summary. A more detailed summary is available at the website of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, a center I highly recommend for anyone hit with an unjust lawsuit. The people there are very helpful.

But wait, there’s more. Not only did GWP lose, but because of the information that came out during the course of the case, the State of Maine filed criminal charges against GWP for fraud. The result was that GWP was dissolved [“defendants” here refers to GWP]:

The defendants agreed to pay civil penalties and court costs. They also agreed to an injunction that prohibits them from making certain health and research claims about the “healing instruments” or from serving as fiduciaries or advisors for any other Maine nonprofit organization. The parties have also agreed that GWP will be dissolved, and its remaining assets distributed by the Attorney General as restitution to consumers who purchased a “healing instrument” since 2003 and to a Maine charity whose charitable mission is to provide services to those with mental health disabilities.

This case was a major victory for the freedom of people to criticize others on the internet. According to the current Winds of Change website, lies are continuing to be spread about Bergin and Garvey, such as the lie that Bergin is in prison when of course he is not and thanks to the favorable court decision, Bergin and Garvey remain free to post about all of this on their website. Justice has been served.