Takedown of man’s blog harassing ex-girlfriend upheld

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Minnesota trial court did not violate the First Amendment rights of man by entering a harassment-restraining order that forced him to remove a blog about his relationship with his former girlfriend.

Andrew John Arlotta and Ann Johnson had a romantic relationship from late 2008 to September 2009. After the relationship ended, Arlotta continued to contact Johnson against her wishes. Johnson successfully obtained an HRO for six months that prevented Arlotta from violating her security or privacy or contacting her by any means.

Two days after the HRO went into effect, Arlotta created a blog called “Help Anna Johnson” that documented his relationship problems with Johnson. It questioned her mental health and stability. Arlotta sent messages about the blog to her relatives, friends and high school classmates. He also sent a message to her employer.

As a result of the blog, Johnson obtained another order from the court imposing an additional restraining order that was to last until March 2062 — for 51 years. The new HRO ordered Arlotta to remove his blog about Johnson from the Internet.

Arlotta appealed the trial court’s order. He contended that the new HRO was an unconstitutional prior restraint on “pure speech” in violation of the First Amendment. Prior restraints are laws, regulations or orders that place significant pre-publication hurdles on speech or prevent speech from occurring altogether.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals determined in its Dec. 12 opinion in Arlotta v. Johnson that the order was legitimate because Arlotta had engaged in a pattern of conduct that substantially violated Johnson’s privacy. The appeals court also rejected the idea that the HRO order was an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. The state has a compelling interest in protecting Johnson from harassment, the appeals court said, further concluding that Arlotta did not engage in protected speech, but unprotected harassment.

“Because the HRO prohibits unprotected speech, we conclude that it is not an impermissible prior restraint,” the court wrote.

Minnesota law allows harassment orders to remain in place for up to 50 years. The appeals court reduced the effective period of the order against Arlotta by one year.

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