Free Speech

Media Outlets Forbidden from Identifying Recently Released Drug Cartel Ex-Boss as Plaintiff in Privacy Lawsuit

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I just learned about the order, which was entered in federal court for the Northern District of California in Oct. 2020 (Doe v. Google, Inc.):

The Court orders that Plaintiff may proceed under a pseudonym[ and] that Defendants are prohibited from disclosing Plaintiff's identity to any third party unless such disclosure is necessary to defend against this action (and if so, with a protective order).

The defendants were Borderland Beat, a prominent and oft-cited blog labeled by one publication as "one of the best resources for current and accurate information on Mexico's bloody drug wars – and its key players"; many Spanish-language publications (El Siglo De Torreon, Noventa Grados, Codigo Rojo Noticias, Infobae, El Manana, Reporte Nivel Uno, Omnia, Valor Tamaulipeco, Reforma, El Norte, Noticias PV Nayarit, Vanguardia); and Google and Blogger.com. The plaintiff has been identified in a news account as Armando Valencia Cornelio, former leader of the Milenio Cartel, who had recently been released from federal prison.

The lawsuit was over the publication of various facts about the plaintiff, including "an image of a 30 year-old drivers license," plaintiff's "resettling in Atherton"—the richest town in the U.S.—and plaintiff's "suffer[ing] from lymphoma." I'm skeptical of the substantive merits of the lawsuit, but I certainly think the injunction violates the First Amendment.

Plaintiff eventually dropped the lawsuit, but the injunction may still be in effect. Borderland Beat moved to vacate the injunction, but the court dismissed that motion in June, when it held that "All pending motions filed by defendant Roe 1 are terminated as moot, and any documents that were filed under seal by Roe 1 will remain sealed pending further order." Perhaps that implicitly concludes that the injunction is no longer in effect (since that's the only thing that would make the motion to vacate moot); but that's far from clear, especially since injunctions often do endure past the final judgment in the case. And the very possibility that the injunction is still in effect usually pressures defendants into complying.

Borderland Beat asked the court for leave to file a motion to reconsider, which is what local procedural rules call for in such a situation, but the court has not yet ruled on this (or on the defendant's motion for attorney fees).

I learned of the order because of a Bloomberg search for all recent orders granting or denying motions for pseudonymity, which I conducted for a law review article I'm writing; had it not been for that, I doubt I would have ever seen it.

NEXT: The 3-3-3 Court Returns on the Second Tuesday in October

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  1. ” The plaintiff has been identified in a news account as Armando Valencia Cornelio, former leader of the Milenio Cartel, who had recently been released from federal prison. ”

    Has anyone identified the clinger who called himself The Real Right Winger and litigated as Publius?

    Knowledge Is Good
    — Emil Faber, founder

    (Could that be a five-Grammy fretboard master on . . . bass guitar?)

  2. EV’s stalker gets in the first “comment”, but as usual adds nothing to the conversation, linking, as is his wont, only to uninformative YouTube videos.

    For actual info, EV linked to the Publius suit just a few articles back.

    1. The identify of Publius is “actual info” in the context of this post.

      1. Are you asserting that you provided that info?

        1. No. Why do you ask?

  3. I’m curious why decaring a motion to vacate moot isn’t good enough evidence the injunction hadn’t already been vacated.

    How could a judge really hold them in contempt under these circumstances? Assuming the orders conflicted, they would be entitled to follow the last.

    1. It’s one of those, “judge would rather not be murdered’ things, I suspect.

    2. Borderland Beat moved to vacate the injunction, but the court dismissed that motion in June, when it held that “All pending motions filed by defendant Roe 1 are terminated as moot, and any documents that were filed under seal by Roe 1 will remain sealed pending further order.” Perhaps that implicitly concludes that the injunction is no longer in effect (since that’s the only thing that would make the motion to vacate moot); but that’s far from clear, especially since injunctions often do endure past the final judgment in the case.

      Should the judge hold Borderland Beat in contempt you could offer your argument as to why you thought the gag order had gone out of effect in defense of the charge that you violated it, but that’s asking for clear thinking from a judge whose writing doesn’t obviously demonstrate that quality.

      1. I don’t doubt that the judge made a mistake when he said that the motion to vacate was moot.

        But since that mistake obviously benefits Borderland Beat, how do they have standing (or an interest) to contest it?

  4. I’m skeptical of the substantive merits of the lawsuit, but I certainly think the injunction violates the First Amendment.

    What on earth would be the point of allowing someone to litigate to defend their privacy but only if they first agree to give up their privacy???

    If the case is dropped or the plaintiff loses, all bets are off, but until either of those things happens its ridiculous to insist that the plaintiff’s private information could be plastered all over the internet if that’s the exact thing that he’s suing to prevent.

    1. Plaintiff eventually dropped the lawsuit…

      Please try to catch up.

      1. What is it about my comment that made you think that I hadn’t spotted that? Is it not more likely that I included the reference to “if the case is dropped” for that very reason?

    2. Having a name is not privacy. The fact that normal people don’t really have a problem litigating under their actual name except in exceptional circumstances but a cartel boss avoids it even in normal circumstances should give you an idea of why it works that way.

      1. Lots of normal people have a problem litigating under their actual name. They just don’t always have the money to pay expensive enough lawyers to ask for it, or they don’t ask for it because they know that under US law they won’t get it. In basically every defamation or privacy lawsuit litigating under pseudonym is a logical necessity if the case isn’t going to defeat itself simply through the Streisand effect.

    3. What on earth would be the point of allowing someone to litigate to defend their privacy but only if they first agree to give up their privacy???

      As I understand the facts based on the above narrative and the complaint filed in the case, the information about his identity had already been plastered all over the internet; that’s why the suit was filed. So the plaintiff had no privacy to give up. What he was trying to do was erase information from the Internet, not prevent information from reaching the Internet. So your concern is misplaced.

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