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Blogger Subpoenaed for Influence

For many bloggers, gaining influence within the blogosphere represents a dream come true. For others, like Kathleen Seidel, a frequent critic of autism vaccine litigation at her blog Neurodiversity, influence can prove nightmarish. As Walter Olson at Overlawyered shared yesterday, Seidel was hit with a subpoena by the plaintiffs lawyer Clifford Shoemaker in Sykes v. Bayer, a case that alleges that mercury used in the vaccine caused a plaintiff's autism. Even though Seidel has no direct (or even indirect) involvement in the case, Shoemaker's subpoena sought a wide range of documents relating to the publication of Seidel's blog, any revenues generated by her site -- and even her correspondence with other bloggers listed on her blogroll. Seidel filed this thorough Motion to Quash pro se , asserting that the subpoena (1) violates her First and Fourth Amendment constitutional rights; (2) will not result in discovery of relevant information; and (3) demands materials that are protected by the journalist's privilege. Seidel's Motion to Quash also notes that Shoemaker filed his subpoena shortly after Seidel's post listing the fees that Shoemaker had recovered from other vaccine litigation over the past 18 months. In that post, Seidel had also mentioned that lawyers like Shoemaker earn a "comfortable living" off of "even marginal vaccine-injury claims."

So ultimately, it was Seidel's discussion of Shoemaker's financial interest in representing plaintiffs in vaccine litigation that provoked his subpoena. Still, if no one read Seidel's blog, Shoemaker might not have bothered, preferring instead to let her post simply drown in the white noise of the blogosphere. That Shoemaker felt compelled to intimidate Seidel with a subpoena is, as some bloggers have pointed out, a testament to her blog's influence. Says Law and More's Jane Genova: "Kathleen Seidel's blog "Neurodiversity," which deconstructs autism vaccine litigation, has influence. Why else would those she discusses have issued a subpoena for the documents used for her blog posts?" And Matt Johnston asks, "So what happens when a blogger becomes something of an expert? They get slapped with a subpoena for their research."

So move over, Bloggers Choice Awards and ABA Top 100 Blawgs. The real badge of honor out here in the blogosphere isn't some a contrived award - it's a subpoena!

For additional coverage of the story and a vociferous defense of Seidel's First Amendment rights, see New York Personal Injury Lawyer .

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 4, 2008 at 05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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