This motion strikes at the essence of free speech – the ability to anonymously dissent and criticize our leaders. As George Washington stated, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Beaver Countian founder John Paul has formally invoked Pennsylvania’s Journalist Shield Law in a court motion filed today asking a judge to quash a subpoena issued by elected Beaver County Treasurer Connie Javens and her adult daughter Renee Javens Zuk. The two women are seeking information which could be used to identify six “John Doe” defendants they are suing for defamation based on negative comments posted anonymously on the Beaver Countian’s website.

Treasurer Connie Javens has been the topic of extensive investigative reporting by the Beaver Countian, and is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by the Beaver County District Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement officials.

Although not a named defendant in Treasurer Javens’ litigation, the Beaver Countian stands dedicated to maintaining a forum which provides local citizens the means to freely express dissent and engage in robust and open debate — including by exercising their Constitutional right to engage in anonymous speech. To that end, the Beaver Countian has refused to provide any information to Treasurer Javens or Renee Zuk and is now taking legal action of its own to protect the commenters’ identities.

According to the Beaver Countian’s attorneys, this case marks the first time in Pennsylvania that a reporter has invoked the Shield Law to protect the identities of anonymous commenters on a news website, and could serve to not only protect free speech rights in Beaver County but across the state as well. Pennsylvania’s Shield Law states that no reporter can be compelled to “disclose the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding, trial or investigation before any government unit.”

The Beaver Countian is being represented in the matter by Philadelphia attorneys Brian Collins and Mark Gottlieb with the law firm of Offit Kurman. The legal representation was arranged for by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the world’s leading digital civil rights organization.

“The Plaintiffs, a public official and a public official’s daughter who is also a public figure, have alleged that comments left on BeaverCountian.com discussing the Plaintiffs’ involvement in alleged criminal activity defamed them,” wrote attorney Brian Collins on behalf of the Beaver Countian. “The posters left these comments on a news website, run by a reporter, and are commentary on the fitness of a public figure to hold office. [John Paul], as a journalist, cannot be compelled to disclose identifying information about these posters. Further, forcing [John Paul] to disclose this information would violate the poster’s right to free, anonymous speech. These commenters and confidential sources would only supply [John Paul] with information and comment on his site if they could continue to rely on their identity remaining confidential. It is critical to a functioning free press that a journalist like [John Paul] not be forced to identify these anonymous speakers. Thus, the BeaverCountian requests that this Court quash the subpoena served on it.”

Attorney Collins goes on to inform the court of the important role that anonymous commenters have played in exposing governmental corruption in Beaver County.

“[T]hese commenters provide information to the BeaverCountian, which the BeaverCountian sometimes follows with further confidential interviews, and these interviews have led in the past to newsworthy, fact verified stories,” continued attorney Collins. “Therefore, these commenters expect and rely on the confidential nature of their communication as a way to bring political corruption to light and to inform the BeaverCountian of potential developments in the community. These activities are precisely why we have a free press. We aim to have the news media hold our officials accountable and bring issues of public concern to light. Forcing the disclosure of these individuals will chill this interaction and work against the intention of Pennsylvania’s Shield Law.”

Although courts in Pennsylvania have not had to consider the Shield Law’s application in protecting anonymous commenters before now, the matter has been taken up in six other states. Judges in Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas have all ruled their state’s journalist shield laws protect reporters from being forced to turn over identifying information about anonymous commenters even in the most compelling of cases.

Pennsylvania’s Shield Law provides an absolute privilege for reporters, and is considered by First Amendment advocates as being one of the strongest in the nation. The Beaver Countian’s legal action in response to Treasurer Connie Javens’ subpoena could be poised to become an important case of first impression in the state.

Along with invoking the Journalist Shield Law, attorneys for the Beaver Countian are also arguing on behalf of the six commenters’ Constitutional rights to speak anonymously.

“The commenters chose to speak anonymously, which is their right, and on a matter of political dissent, involving so-called ‘core’ First Amendment rights,” wrote attorney Collins. “As public figures attacking speech that discusses a matter of public concern, the plaintiffs have a higher burden to meet. The plaintiffs must show that the speakers published the allegedly defamatory statements with ‘actual malice’ [..] The actual malice standard is not based on a ‘reasonable person’ analysis, but rather the plaintiff must prove that the speaker entertained serious doubts as to the statement’s truth […] The comments that the plaintiffs protest all involve illegal activity by the Treasurer and her family, abuse of her office, insider dealing, theft, and other crimes. Notably, the Treasurer does not deny them in her request for a subpoena […] In fact, the Beaver Countian, among other news media, have published extensively about the legal controversies surrounding Treasurer Javens and her family. These news reports lend credence to the claims made by the speakers in their anonymous comments.”

Last Friday a lawyer representing “John Q Taxpayer” — one of the commenters at the heart of Treasurer Javens’ litigation — filed similar First Amendment arguments in defense of anonymous speech. “Bluntly stated, Treasurer Javens’ filing of the Motion For Issuance Of A Subpoena appears designed only to chill political free speech rather than assert any legitimate cause of action that has any possibility of success,” wrote attorney Gerald Benyo in his motion to the court.

Attorneys for the Beaver Countian argue that given the facts and circumstances surrounding Treasurer Connie Javens and Renee Javens Zuk’s litigation against the anonymous commenters, the court must quash their subpoena seeking identifying information.

“[I]n order to foster a healthy discourse on political dissent this Court cannot reach any other conclusion,” concluded attorney Brian Collins.

See Also:

Treasurer Connie Javens And Her Daughter File Defamation Lawsuit Against Six Beaver Countian Commenters
Treasurer’s Daughter Lands Lucrative Friendship Ridge Contract
Investigative Report: Money Unilaterally Withdrawn From County Accounts By Treasurer Javens & LaValle Tops $6 Million
Bank Slips Show $3.4 Million Unilaterally Withdrawn By Financial Administrator LaValle & Treasurer Javens
Controller: Treasurer Connie Javens Withdrew $275,000 From County Bank Account Without Authorization
Investigative Report: County Has Not Conducted A Full Audit Of Treasurer Javens’ Office Since 1992
Treasurer Connie Javens Tried To File Criminal Charges Against Commenter
Joe Spanik Calls Out Commissioner Nichols & Treasurer Connie Javens
Dispatch: Shots Fired In Treasurer Connie Javens’ House – Son Under Arrest
County Treasurer’s Son Gets Plea Deal In Firearms And Domestic Violence Case – Pays $100 Fine

About The Beaver Countian’s Legal Representation

attorneys

Founded in the 1980’s in Baltimore, Offit Kurman is now one of the fastest-growing full-service law firms in the region. The group has a keen understanding of the importance of the intersection of law and technology, having recently expanded their attorneys with technology focused practices including intellectual property, data and cybersecurity, and privacy issues. With 120 attorneys on staff, the firm offers a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category. Offit Kurman’s twelve offices serve individual and corporate clients in the Philadelphia, Washington DC, Baltimore, and New York City metropolitan areas, and markets including Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and Northern Virginia.

Legal representation for the Beaver Countian was arranged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the world’s leading digital civil rights organization. The EFF was founded in 1990 to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows. The international nonprofit organization champions causes of user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. The EFF is currently leading federal litigation against the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program.

John Paul
John Paul is the founder of the Beaver Countian. He reports full-time for the site, specializing in investigative journalism with an emphasis on public corruption.

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Maniac
Member
Maniac

BAM

Accordingtome
Member
Accordingtome

I think when the treasurer filed the subpoena she naively just assumed that she’d get a list of names… Now that her clout has all but vanished I think she’s going to quickly find out that all she did was waste her money on a lawyer.

Correct me if I’m mistaken but in order for defamation to take place there has to be actual monetary damages suffered by the plaintiff…. Nowhere have I seen a description of how the comments in question have financially damaged the treasurer and her spawn.

lifeguard
Guest
lifeguard

Don’t worry about Connie’s money. I’m sure she has plenty squirreled away somewhere in her backyard. It would be interesting to dig it up and see how many different sets of fingerprints are on it.

Yogi
Guest
Yogi

Hey Connie don’t you think you should be more concerned about your federal investigation than JP???

Seems to me you should be more worried about dying in a federal penitentiary than ordinary citizens telling the truth about you and your equally corrupt (and dense!) daughter.

A Girl in Center
Guest
A Girl in Center

JP – you’re a real stand up guy, taking on these legal fees to protect not only the “6” but everyone who posts comments here. It’s just a shame, you and the others having to throw money away on legal representation because of this asshole mother and daughter and their ridiculous antics. I can’t wait to see this come back and bite them in the ass, a day we are all waiting to see happen. Meanwhile, where is the money for her legal fees coming from? Last I checked, country treasurer and hairdresser and not exactly high paying wages in the BC……then again, I think we all know the answer to that. Thanks again for all the information provided, and for not backing down.

Concerned in Center Twp
Guest
Concerned in Center Twp

@ a girl in center the same place the under age drinking pool party’s is coming from at Renee’s house the last couple weeks. One day these kids will leave there and get killed I hope not. I hope my son or daughter doesn’t go there!!!

Nebby
Guest
Nebby

Looks like the neighbors are watching the house again and making up stories to make the Javens look bad. Proof????

Basher
Guest
Basher

Yea concerned isn’t really concerned, just trying to make Rene and her kids look bad. This is more Javens bashing.

LostDollar
Guest
LostDollar

I too have witnessed under age drinkers at the Zuk home. So Nebby needs to shut the hell up, apparently condones what is going on there. Hope you don’t have a child that gets caught up in that mess Nebby!

Ratface
Guest
Ratface

Hey lost dollar, no one condones that behavior. You say you witness underage drinkers. Were you there? If you witness it, why don’t you do something about it instead of putting it on this website?? Instead of doing something, you would rather write about it here to give these commenters more info to bash the Javens family on more alleged wrongdoings. Right????

weezulgoespop
Guest
weezulgoespop

Ratface,nebby,basher and blitzen on comet …etc. EASE UP THERE RENEE. That is the only name I see here… Renee ZUK. …..maybe I missed something…. I never once saw the name javens .

Thecountyisbroken
Guest
Thecountyisbroken

Yet , her daughter Renee still writing under many aliases bitter, Johnnytellitlikeitis but, if i didn’t have to work all day and mom pays my bills I could be the defense dog for the family on the Beaver Countian. If, she was smart she would have shut up but, finally these bimbo’s are in hot water about to get burned once and for all. Good job Jp. BENYO, JOHNNY Q TAXPAYER, AND THE BC6!

Ms.Ophelia
Guest
Ms.Ophelia

longjohnsilver another alias

Weezulgoespop
Guest
Weezulgoespop

Now adding Ratface (that one Suits the commenter) Nebby, Basher. Will you ever get it, you are really looking an ASS ….. when you asked were you there? You look pretty damn stupid. Hairdresser?….. do you still have all your fingers?

Johnnytellitlikeitis
Guest
Johnnytellitlikeitis

And that is where you are wrong my friend. I happen to be an adult male who despite this article still believes that people should start learning to communicate with some dignity and integrity on here. Why isn’t that being addressed such as the classless aliases’ along with the comments that should be filtered like many other reputable online news reporting web sites have without question. It seems as if you agree with JP, anything is allowed to be stated without filter.

lifeguard
Guest
lifeguard

Johnny………………….If you’re offended get the fuck off the site, otherwise if you really are a man grow a set of balls Needledick.

Mungo Jerry
Guest
Mungo Jerry

@johnnytellitlikeitisnt…You must be a special kind of stoopid! You say ” comments that should be filtered like many other reputable online news reporting web site ” Did you once stop to consider what this whole thing has turned into? A fight for our rights to voice our opinions per our 1st amendment right afforded by the U.S Constitution, and you say JP needs to srtart censoring comments! And dont call Mungo’s name classless! And BTW way to go JP!!

Johnnytellitlikeitis
Guest
Johnnytellitlikeitis

ok, well I’m pretty sure aliases such as renee javen’s hairy butthole would be filtered on many other sites.

Things like that are allowed here which in turn causes the quality of the content on here not to be taken as serious as it could be if it were cleaned up a little bit.

Preppyguy
Guest
Preppyguy

Hey Johnny you are right. JP does block comments and mentions using a spam filter on this site. Read his comments on March 20 at 11:38pm posted in the article “County policy changed after sheriffs K9 grabs employee in its mouth.” These commenters talk about free speech and first amendment but if you have a different opinion, they block you, verbally attack you and accuse you of being related to people. This is why people are not reading or commenting on this site anymore. Plus, who has the money to pay attorney’s fees?$$$$$$$$$$ Not me!!!

lifeguard
Guest
lifeguard

Johnny………….there are websites out there that would show the butt hair braided to, so what’s your point? You reap what you sow…………….

Thecountyisbroken
Guest
Thecountyisbroken

@ Johnnytellitlikeitis looks you have a great Negative fan base here go away your not wanted and probably a family member or very dumb!!!!

weezulgoespop
Guest
weezulgoespop

renee javen’s hairy butthole, inquiring minds want to know …. NO NO it was just a joke, NO ONE wants to know. She’s knows how to deal with that, she’s a hair dresser for gods sake. Do they still make Nair ?