In January, 2010 a civil lawsuit was filed by this publisher in Bergen County naming defendants, among others, Bedminster (Somerset County) Police Detective Nanci Arraial and Westwood (Bergen County) Police Detective Robert Saul, Jr.
According to court filings, in early November 2009, Bedminster Police Detective Nanci Arraial executed a search warrant/communications data warrant on the Westwood, NJ dwelling of MrWestwood.com’s publisher. Assisting Det. Arraial was, among others, Westwood Police Detective Robert Saul, Jr.
The police seized some 18 separate items of this publisher/plaintiff’s valuable personal property, consisting of computers and computer related equipment and materials, plus an mp3 player, a cell phone, and a digital camera.
In the verified complaint filed in the civil lawsuit, this publisher/plaintiff asserts that he is a person engaged in gathering, procuring, transmitting, compiling, editing, publishing, or disseminating news for the public, via the internet.
This publisher/plaintiff asserts that his engagement in said activities is a valid exercise of his right to freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, and of liberty of the press secured by Article I, Paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution. This publisher/plaintiff also invoked the “subpoena first” policy set forth in N.J.S. 2A:84A-21.9 et seq.
The subpoena first policy provides that publishers shall be free from searches and seizures by State, county and local law enforcement unless a search warrant is approved in advance of its submission by the Attorney General or the prosecutor in the county in which the warrant is to be executed. The pleadings in the case reflect that the application for the warrant was not approved in advance by the Attorney General or by the Bergen County Prosecutor.
According to defendant Arraial’s Affidavit in Support of Search Warrant/Communications Data Warrant, the subject of Arraial’s investigation was a website known as amywollock.wordpress.com. At an April 2011 court hearing, this publisher/plaintiff described the website as an exposé of Rutgers University and one of its directors, Amy H. Wollock, Esq.
The complaint alleges that defendant Arraial’s purpose in applying for the search warrant/communications data warrant was to deprive publisher/plaintiff of his rights secured by Article I, Paragraph 6 on the New Jersey Constitution, and to seriously inconvenience and injure publisher/plaintiff. At an April 2011 court hearing, this publisher/plaintiff testified and presented evidence that defendant Arraial caused amywollock.wordpress.com to be shut down, and asserted that the seizure of his computers and computer related equipment and materials was tantamount to seizing the printing presses of a publisher in traditional media.
The complaint alleges that both Arraial and Saul had reasonable belief and knowledge of this publisher/plaintiff’s news media status prior to applying for a search warrant. At the April 2011 court hearing, this publisher/plaintiff’s attorney produced a fax transmission from Saul to Arraial in which the publisher/plaintiff was identified as a moderator of MrWestwood.com.
At said hearing, Det. Saul expressed an opinion that this publisher/plaintiff is merely a “blogger.” Det. Saul also characterized this publisher/plaintiff as “anti-government” and “anti-establishment.” This publisher/plaintiff later testified that he is not anti-government, but is critical of government. It appears that Westwood Police Detective Robert Saul is ignorant of the roles that freedom of speech and criticism of the government played in the founding of our country.
The complaint alleges that defendant Arraial obtained unauthorized access to the Rutgers/Amy Wollock exposé website, in violation of the terms of its use agreement.
Finally, the complaint alleges that defendant Arraial willfully and materially misrepresented that the Rutgers/Amy Wollock exposé website contained “written threats” and that various criminal offenses “occurred in Somerset County,” and that she compounded these misrepresentations by deliberately withholding from her supporting Affidavit a description of specific content of the website or, alternatively, the image of the website.
Apparently, the above was not considered a red flag to Assistant Somerset County Prosecutor Daryl A. Williams who helped defendant Arraial prepare the warrant application, or to New Jersey Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman (sitting in Somerset County) who signed the search warrant/communications data warrant.
A plain reading of the website, introduced at the April 2011 court hearing, does not reveal any justification for a criminal investigation, or a good faith justification of probable cause for a search warrant/communications data warrant. This publisher/plaintiff asserts that Amy Wollock has a law degree, so she knows better than to accuse this publisher/plaintiff of wrongdoing associated with the Rutgers/Amy Wollock exposé; she didn’t like being the subject of a news investigation, so she enlisted Det. Nanci Arraial who engaged in questionable conduct by causing the website to be shut down and by seizing this publisher/plaintiff’s computers. The website is still down, and the seized equipment and materials have not been returned.
This publisher/plaintiff asserts that he has never committed any of the crimes recited in defendant Arraial’s Affidavit, that no evidence of said crimes was found in the forensics analysis of the seized property, and that he was never charged with any of said crimes. None of the seized property is contraband.
17 months after the search and seizure, a plenary hearing to establish this publisher/plaintiff’s news media status was held in April, 2011 before Judge Robert Contillo. At the time, Judge Contillo represented that he was ready to issue a decision. No decision had been issued when in June, 2011 Judge Contillo called for reargument in light of the Too Much Media vs. Shellee Hale decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court. In late June 2011, reargument was completed, and 21 months after the search and seizure, all parties currently await a decision.