The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Apparent forged court order for the benefit of a New Britain (Conn.) volunteer city commissioner


Ken Haas is a member of a New Britain (Conn.) city commission, the Commission on Conservation, appointed by Mayor Erin Stewart. Several months ago, he got into a public controversy with local activist Robert Berriault—allegedly, when someone got in a Facebook political spat with Haas, he responded by writing, "You do know I have access to ALL city records, including criminal and civil, right???" Berriault took that to be a threat that Haas would misuse that access for political purposes and wrote about this on the New Britain Independent site, as well as in a not-much-noticed petition calling for Haas's removal. (Since then, Berriault has announced his candidacy for the New Britain city council.)

And then things got really interesting: Two weeks ago, someone asked Google to deindex the New Britain Independent article and the petition, and the request was accompanied with what looked like a court order in Haas v. Berriault. The order purported to be in a libel and false light invasion of privacy lawsuit and closed with:

Plaintiff is granted damages for all counts as to Defendant Robert Berriault. Defendant must also remove and retract statements made referencing Plaintiff Haas.

The trouble is that there is no such case. There is no such court order. There is no Connecticut Superior Court Judge named John W. Darrah.

There is, however, a federal district judge in Illinois named John W. Darrah, who presided over a federal case that bears the same case number as that in the ostensible Haas v. Berriault; one of the documents in that case shares some of the legalese as well. The purported Haas v. Berriault order seems to copy some parts of the real Darrah order, including the case number, the general format of the title, some of the language and Darrah's signature. (The original federal case, by the way, is Duffy v. Godfread, one of the Prenda Law porno-trolling collective cases, though of course it's a public document and anyone could have cut and pasted from it.)

Who submitted the forged order to Google? Commissioner Haas seems the likeliest intended beneficiary of the forgery and the takedown request, and his name (spelled as Ken Hass) was used on the takedown request. But it is of course possible that this was done by someone else, whether someone hired by Haas (with or without knowledge of what would be done) or someone else. I called Haas to ask about what happened here, but he told me he had no comment.

UPDATE: For those interested in more on the original Haas / Berriault controversy, here is a police report stemming from Haas's attempt to get the police to go after Berriault for his posts; here is the text: