Issues of privacy, free speech and copyright are at the forefront of the court case between JZK, Inc. and Virginia Coverdale.
Members of a Facebook group comprised of former members of Yelm's Ramtha School of Enlightenment are asking Judge Gary Taybor to quash a subpoena seeking information from their Facebook accounts in Thurston County Superior Court on Friday.
The group, called Enlighten Europa (EE), also seeks a protective order.
A lawyer representing the anti-RSE website Enlighten Me Free (EMF) and the site's owner, former RSE student David McCarthy, filed a motion to strike all claims against McCarthy and all other unidentified defendants associated with his website.
The proceedings are part of the court case between Yelm channeler JZ Knight and Coverdale, who released videos on YouTube that showed Knight making disparaging comments about Catholics, gays and Mexicans. Representatives of the school said the videos were taken out of context.
JZK, Inc. sued Coverdale, arguing she signed a contract when she was a student at the school stipulating she wouldn't disseminate the school's materials. Coverdale is a member of EE.
Lawyers for JZK, Inc., the company owned by Yelm channeler JZ Knight, subpoenaed Facebook for information on members of the private Facebook group Enlightened Europa, which is made up of former RSE members who say they believe the school is a cult. Motions filed by Yelm lawyer Breckan Scott seek to give the group protected status as a therapeutic recovery group, and to quash the subpoena.
JZK, Inc. lawyers stated in court documents they need the information to help identify who provided Coverdale with proprietary video footage.
EMF received correspondence from its web hosting company noting they had received a copy of a temporary restraining order issued by Thurston County Superior Court and that they would shut the site down if they didn't receive a response. JZK, Inc.'s lawyers also subpoenaed Google for information on EMF, and the site's owner, McCarthy, had his YouTube account disabled, according to court documents.
Scott argues the members of the group have a right to anonymous free speech under both the Washington state and U.S. constitutions. If Facebook gives lawyers for JZK, Inc. the information requested in the subpoena, that right would be infringed, she said.
She called the subpoenas a "fishing expedition."
In addition to citing free speech concerns, Scott argues in court documents that EE constitutes a support group that entitles its members to anonymity, which would be infringed if Facebook delivered user information to JZK, Inc.'s lawyers.
To support the claim that Enlightened Europa is a recovery group, Scott notes two licensed physicians, two registered nurses, an ordained pastor and an expert on cults contribute to the purported recovery that takes place among members in the group.
"The members of the site make communications pursuant to their common interest in recovery, with the expectation that such communications are private," Scott stated. "EE members suffer from various mental and emotional disorders related to their former RSE membership, including PTSD, acute anxiety, agoraphobia and depression.
"EE members have already suffered significant detrimental effects from RSE, and their need for recovery is well-grounded. And, for those whose recovery has progressed enough for them to speak, their stories deserve to be told without suppressive fear tactics."
In a response to EE's motions, JZK, Inc. lawyer Jeffrey Grant writes the claims of pastoral, therapeutic/recovery group, medical/HIPPA, free speech and privacy privilege made in the motion are "specious."
"There is no showing that any specific relationship exists between anyone — no one claims to serve as the clergy, therapist, or medical professional to any particular person," he stated. "The fact that a member of the clergy, or a therapist, or a medical professional is a member of a Facebook Group or Page, absent more, does not transform vitriolic attacks or random musings, all posted on the Internet, into protected communications. The portal to the EE Group site makes no mention of any of these now claimed privileges."
Grant writes that JZK, Inc.'s subpoena doesn't infringe on the group members' freedom of speech, as they do not seek the content of communication between members, but rather information that would aid them in identifying users who unlawfully obtained and distributed the company's proprietary materials.
Grant proposed the declarations by EE members included in the group's motion not be considered by the court, because he said they "are rife with hearsay, are not based on personal knowledge, are conclusory and lack any specificity or detail, or lack any foundation."
Scott said discussion on EE includes commentary on how RSE affects members of the group individually, but also on how RSE affects the public, the safety of its current members, and purported "ongoing efforts to harass and oppress thought-provoking speech regarding the organization."
She said topics discussed by members of the group include their perceptions of alleged fraud by RSE; alleged use of "fear tactics" and "doomsday predictions" to compel people to "sacrifice careers and family life to relocate to Yelm for the school's financial gain"; alleged instances in which the school directed members to not seek medical attention; and the alleged use of litigation as "a tactic of oppression towards former RSE members in recovery."
Scott questions the connection between the members of EE to the court case between JZK, Inc. and Coverdale, with the exception of Coverdale.
"The only basis for the subpoena provided has been either that those named made public commentary about the video, or have some other unnamed connection to ‘key individuals' in the lawsuit," Scott stated.
The lawsuit against Coverdale also lists "John Does" and "Jane Does," identified as anonymous users of EMF, as defendants.
At issue is a 2007 Conditions of Participation signed by RSE students, including Coverdale, which stipulates students are not to distribute materials or information from the school.
EMF lawyer Joshua Koltun argues that JZK, Inc.'s lawyers misrepresented the facts in court by implying all former RSE students have signed the same contract Coverdale signed.
In court documents, Koltun states when JZK, Inc. filed charges against McCarthy in New Zealand, they attached a copy of a 1993 Conditions of Participation he signed.
That contract was the first that RSE required students to sign, according to McCarthy. Koltun stated the 1993 contract only prohibits students from teaching "what you learn here," and said because McCarthy was not a member of RSE when he posted videos of Knight speaking at RSE, and was not present when the video was recorded, he did not violate it.