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A federal judge just threw the book at Kevin Trudeau after Trudeau threw the Internet at the judge.
This AP story explains that Judge Robert Gettleman held the notorious TV pitchman in criminal contempt of court after what must have been many thousands of emails from Trudeau's supporters jammed not only the judge's computer but his BlackBerry.
Trudeau had asked for the show of support on his Web site. Supporters were given the judge's email address and told, "Kevin needs your voice." But after Gettleman hauled him into court Thursday, told him he'd have to post a $50,000 bond and surrender his passport, and warned that next week he'll probably fine him and send him to jail, Trudeau apologized on his Web site and advised his supporters to leave the judge alone.
Gettleman has been overseeing Trudeau's running battle with the Federal Trade Commission for several years. Three years ago the judge held Trudeau in civil contempt for false claims in one of Trudeau's umpteen books, The Weight Loss Cure "They" Don't Want You to Know About. Then, Gettleman fined him $37.6 million and banned him from doing infomercials for three years. But an appeals court told the judge to reconsider the fine and ban, and that's what's been going on lately.
The deluge of emails wasn't likely to persuade the judge that any of Trudeau's claims are true. But it did demonstrate that multitudes think they're true — and in the perplexing realm of medicine, faith in the medicine and faith in the healer are known to count for something. Nonetheless, Gettleman wasn't impressed, certainly not once his computer crashed. He accused Trudeau of trying to "harass the court." This excellent Tribune account suggests the email can be regarded as inappropriate "ex-parte communication" between one party in a case and the judge.
A week ago I wrote on this blog about friends of Nicole Hollander coming to her support by sending emails to Chicago Tribune editors asking them not to drop Hollander's comic strip, Sylvia. An important difference between that and this is that the 200 or so emails the Tribune received from Sylvia's fans are a drop in the bucket compared to the inundation from Trudeau's fans. Another important difference is that the Tribune editors could show their disdain by replying with boiler plate and dropping Sylvia anyway, but they could not express it by threatening Hollander with a fine and incarceration.
The AP story I cite above describes Gettleman as "calm" and "soft-spoken." The Tribune story describes him as "normally mild-mannered." He sounds to me like a guy in a line of work that hasn't come to terms with digital communication but who thinks he can gavel it down. What are judges to do with defendants who have a lot of friends when those friends presume to speak up?
There was a famous earlier case, recounted in the novel and movie Miracle on 34th Street. A pleasant old man named Kris Kringle was on trial for insanity and he was close to being sent to the funny farm. But at the last minute the Post Office decided that the millions of undelivered letters from little kids to Santa Claus might as well be forwarded to Kringle, because that's who he claimed to be, and bale after bale was dumped on the courthouse floor.
It was an outrageous intrusion of ex-parte communication, all of it delusional, and the judge would have been within his rights to issue citations all around. But Kringle was peddling happiness, not snake oil, and the judge not only forgave the disruption but ruled in Kringle's favor.
Aside from this one precedent, Gettleman, so far as I know, was in uncharted legal waters.