Published: February 22, 2012
Author: Kimball Perry
Photographer Mark Byron was so bothered by his pending divorce and child visitation issues that he blasted his soon-to-be ex-wife on his personal Facebook page.
That touched off a battle that resulted in a Hamilton County judge ordering Byron jailed for his Facebook rant – and to post on his page an apology to his wife and all of his Facebook friends or go to jail, something free speech experts found troubling.
Mark Byron, a local photographer, holds his iPad with a photo of himself and his son. Byron is involved in a divorce suit with his wife, Elizabeth, that has spilled over into Facebook. Due to a post on his Facebook page about his divorce and custody restrictions in November of 2011, a Hamilton County judge is ordering Byron to post an apology to his wife on his Facebook page every day for 30 days. The divorce is not yet final. / The Enquirer/ Liz Dufour
“The idea that a court can say ‘I order you not to post something or to post something’ seems to me to be a First Amendment issue,” Enquirer attorney and free-speech expert Jack Greiner said Tuesday.
Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the rulings are unique and “raise quite a few” free speech issues.
“There haven’t been a lot of cases that have dealt with this particular issue,” he said.
Mark and Elizabeth Byron had a son in July 2010, but their marriage soon became troubled. She accused him of verbally abusing her, threatening her with his fist and threatening to “end” her life.
While Mark Byron, an Over-the-Rhine photographer who has worked freelance assignments for The Enquirer, was exonerated of criminal allegations, a civil protective order was issued instructing him to stay away from his wife.
Mark Byron also argued the same court prevented him from seeing his son. In a Nov. 23, 2011, Facebook posting, he blasted the situation and the judicial system he believed wronged him.
“...if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husbands life and take your son’s father away from him completely – all you need to do is say that you're scared of your husband or domestic partner...” he wrote on Facebook.
Elizabeth Byron saw it – even though her husband blocked her from viewing his page – and believed it violated a previous protective order by Domestic Relations Court Magistrate Paul Meyers that prevented Mark Byron from doing anything to cause his wife “to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance, or bodily injury.”
Magistrates act as quasi-judges and hear the bulk of the cases in Domestic Relations Court. Their work is reviewed by Domestic Relations Court judges, this time by Judge Jon Sieve who signed off on Meyers’ finding.
Sieve said Ohio judicial rules prevent he and Meyers from commenting on a pending case.
Elizabeth Byron, who couldn’t be reached, believed her husband’s Facebook rant violated the court order, said it and the comments about it made by Mark Byron’s Facebook friends embarrassed her. That, she said, violated the previous order from harassing her – even though the post wasn’t addressed to her and she was blocked from viewing it.
“She wasn’t harassed,” Fakhoury said, “because she deliberately sought this out.”
Meyers found Mark Byron in contempt and ordered him jailed for 60 days beginning March 19 – and to post for 30 days on his Facebook an apology to his wife, written by Meyers, if he wanted to avoid jail.
“In a million years I didn’t think he’d be found in contempt,” Elizabeth “Becky” Ford, Mark Byron’s attorney, said.
“He did nothing but vent. She didn’t like what he had to say. That’s what this boils down to.”
Particularly troubling for Greiner and Fakhoury was Meyers’ do-it-or-go-to-jail option for Mark Byron to post the apology. “I didn’t think I had an option,” Byron said.
“The court’s order to compel speech is as much a violation of the Fist Amendment” as suppressing free speech, Greiner said.
Greiner called the difference between a legal order to post the apology and then noting jail could be avoided if it was posted “a distinction without a difference.”
“Forcing someone to speak as punishment for speaking” could violate Mark Byron’s free speech rights, Fakhoury said.
Read the Entire Article at Cincinnati.com Judge: Jail for Facebook Rant
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