An appeals court has upheld a court order, which was originally issued in order to keep a New Jersey woman from posting about her family on social media sites such as Facebook. The gag order had been issued on behalf of prosecutors and the family of the woman’s ex-husband, who claimed to be frightened by the nature of her posts.
The appellate court ruled that the original order was constitutional. The woman, identified only as H.L.M. in court filings and from Hunterdon County, argued that the court order was too vague and restricted her First Amendment rights. Appeals court judges Michael Guadagno and John Kennedy, in their ruling of May 13, found that the original ruling was very specific in that it did not limit her rights to post whatever she wanted on sites like Facebook, but in order to protect her family, it did restrict her from specifically writing about them. The court also ruled that the ban had been imposed in order to help the woman, a former electrical engineer and patent attorney, in the process of rehabilitation.
H.L.M. lost custody of her two children in 2011, after which she abducted them, an action which prompted missing persons alerts to be issued by authorities. She was later apprehended at the Canadian border as she attempted to take the children out of the country. She was arrested for kidnapping, but took a plea deal in which she was convicted only of interfering with custody in exchange for agreeing to submit to psychiatric testing and to undergo therapy. Upon learning in December 2011 that the woman had not undergone therapy as required and was posting “disturbing” diatribes online, a judge ordered a psychiatric test, which found that H.L.M. had bipolar disorder. Her condition was not seen as dangerous to herself or to those around her.
The original order was sparked when a state attorney requested that the judge ban the woman from posting anything on Facebook or anywhere else regarding her children or her ex-husband in order to protect her children from someday reading the online rants about subjects such as Jeffrey Dahmer, the Book of Revelations, Adolph Hitler and Satan, which the judge labeled as “rambling, irrational, disturbing, bizarre.” The posts, written by H.L.M. in jail while waiting to be sentenced, also referenced unsuccessful attempts by the woman to commit suicide. Although a psychiatrist told the court that the writings were a necessary form of therapy for the woman, the judge issued the ban and ordered that H.L.M. have no contact with her kids. He also placed her on probation for five years.
Despite the ban, H.L.M. continued posting about her family, but attempting to disguise this by referring to them as “Camelot,” but then told her probation officer to what “Camelot” actually referred. During a hearing which took place in August 2012, it was discovered that H.L.M. had written about “Camelot” on 161 occasions starting from the time of the original ban to the date of the hearing. The woman was charged in November for violating the gag order, resulting in her filing the unsuccessful appeal approximately one week later.
The appellate court ruling which upholds the original judge’s order barring the woman from writing on social media sites such as Facebook was made on an unpublished basis, which prevents it from having any bearing on other cases.
By Jennifer Pfalz