The Right to Criticize
The freedom to criticize your ex-spouse in public may not be quite as free as the First Amendment might appear to guarantee when it comes to doing it online. At least that’s what Anthony Morelli of Doylestown, Pennsylvania recently experienced when he began blasting his ex-wife on his own blog site. The result became a contest between the right to free speech and the need to do what is in the best interests of the children in a divorce situation.
Anthony Morelli created the blog ThePsychoExWife.com with the express purpose of posting extremely negative rants about his ex-wife Allison. When Allison discovered the bitter blog she said the material was potentially harmful to their 9- and 12-year-old sons and brought the matter up at the couple’s next custody hearing in the Bucks County Court. At that hearing, Bucks County Court Judge Diane Gibbons ruled that Anthony Morelli had to take down his blog site. He was also forbidden to make any mention of his ex-wife on any form of public media or say anything about his children online other than happy birthday or to acknowledge other significant school events in a positive manner.
Instead of complying with the judge’s ruling, Anthony Morelli continued ranting on his blog site and wrote that he would keep the blog going, saying, “The judge has no say over what I write here.” Morelli raked the coals when he posted entries that said his ex-wife was a “psycho” and a “black-out drunk.” He then posed the question “”what kind of ““expletive deleted – judge gives the kids back to her?”
Not amused with Mr. Morelli’s rants, Judge Gibbons called the couple back to court, saying “It is not just venting that I have read in these pages. It amounts to outright cruelty.” The judge then ordered that Morelli’s blog site be completely shut down, and the controversy over whether Gibbons’ ruling violated Morelli’s right to free speech began in earnest. For her part, ex-wife Allison was happy with the court ordered shut down and said “What the judge said in court made perfect sense to me, stop doing what you’re doing, and do the right thing for your children.”
Mr. Morelli was not so happy and responded by hiring a new lawyer to appeal the case to Superior Court, claiming Gibbons violated his right to free speech. Some legal experts seem to agree that Gibbons did restrict Morelli’s free speech and Robert D. Richards, founding director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Pennsylvania State University, was quoted in the Philadelphia Enquirer as saying “I think the judge did overstep her bounds a little bit in ordering the Web site taken down.” Unless Mr. Morelli changes his mind, the appeal will likely wind its way through the system until it reaches the state’s Supreme Court where a final ruling will be issued.