Is it fair this man was forced to apologize for his Facebook rant ?
Family Lawyer Magazine Editor
In the age of Web 2.0 where courtrooms are forced to interact with social media and technology, issues of freedom of speech are often raised — even when it comes to family law.
Mark Byron, a Cincinnati man pending divorce has been sentenced to serve 60 days in jail unless he posts an apology to his wife on his Facebook page for 30 days. Stating “I didn’t think I had an option” on the Cincinnati Enquirer, Byron choose the latter option.
Frustrated by his ongoing divorce case and his child visitation rights, Byron ranted on his Facebook page: “…if you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband’s 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…” on Nov. 23.
The post rallied much support from his friends.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, even though she has been blocked from his Facebook, Byron’s soon to be ex-spouse (Elizabeth Byron) learned of the rant and believed it violated a previous protective order that prevented Mark Byron from doing anything to cause his wife “to suffer physical and/or mental abuse, harassment, annoyance, or bodily injury.”
It has previously been determined by two judicial officials in the Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court, that Byron, has committed an act of domestic violence against his ex-spouse. Though the post wasn’t addressed to her, Elizabeth Byron said that the responses from Byron’s Facebook friends made her feel “afraid.”
The “do it or go to jail” option in the case has raised many Freedom of Speech violation questions.
“Forcing someone to speak as punishment for speaking could violate Mark Byron’s free speech rights,” said Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer, Hanni Fakhoury on the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Cincinnati Enquirer lawyer and free speech expert, Jack Greiner agrees. “The court’s order to compel speech is as much a violation of the First Amendment as suppressing free speech,” he said.
Byron’s case is due in court on March 19. “It’s outlandish,” he said to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I’m afraid to do anything. People are even fearful that Facebook can be regulated by a judge.”
The Full court-ordered apology posted by Byron on his Facebook:
“I would like to apologize to my wife, Elizabeth Byron, for the comments regarding her and our son … which were posted on my Facebook wall on or about November 23, 2011.
“I hereby acknowledge that two judicial officials in the Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court have heard evidence and determined that I committed an act of domestic violence against Elizabeth on January 17, 2011. While that determination is currently being appealed, it has not been overturned by the appellate court. As a result of that determination, I was granted supervised parenting time with (my son) on a twice weekly basis.
“The reason I saw (my son) only one time during the four month period which ended about the time of my Facebook posting was because I chose to see him on only that single occasion during that period.
“I hereby apologize to Elizabeth for casting her in an unfavorable light by suggesting that she withheld (my son) from me or that she in any manner prevented me from seeing (my son) during that period. That decision was mine and mine alone.
“I further apologize to all my Facebook Friends for attempting to mislead them into thinking that Elizabeth was in any manner preventing me from spending time with (my son), which caused several of my Facebook Friends to respond with angry, venomous, and inflammatory comments of their own.”