ACLU, Public Citizen appeal injunction against web critic

constitutionPublic Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today filed papers in the Supreme Court of Virginia appealing the preliminary injunction ordering Jane Perez not to post certain criticisms of Dietz Development, LLC on the internet.

“This order is a classic prior restraint against speech,” said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg, who is representing Perez. “One of the core purposes of the First Amendment is to prevent the government from prohibiting the publication of certain speech,” she added.

“In too many cases, trial judges respond to disputes over defamation claims by issuing temporary injunctions that give something for both sides, out of a rough sense of fairness,” said Paul Levy, attorney with Public Citizen, who also represents Perez. “Such orders run afoul of the American tradition of free speech, which assumes that the public can sort out truth from fiction so long as both sides have the opportunity to have their say. Prior restraints of free speech are forbidden until, at the very least, both sides have had the chance to present their sides to a jury and the loser has had the opportunity to appeal,” he added.

The controversy originated when Perez posted reviews of Dietz Development on the websites Yelp and Angie’s List, in which she described a number of problems she had when she hired the contractor to do some work on her house. Dietz Development sued Perez for defamation in Fairfax County Circuit Court, and asked the judge to order her to remove her posts and refrain from any further criticism while the lawsuit is pending.

The judge refused to enjoin any of Perez’s criticism of the contractor’s work, but on December 7, 2012, he ordered her to remove her description how she discovered some jewelry missing when only Dietz Development had a key to the house. He also ordered her to remove language about the outcome of a suit for nonpayment brought against her by Dietz.

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