This report is part 22 of an investigative series looking into reported corruption in the Judiciary and family courts. For the rest of the investigation, visit the catalog here.
After guardian ad litem (GAL) Shannon Moreau asked a court to issue a protective order over the audio recordings of transcripts published during my investigation into her actions on a custody case, I entered into the Burkhart v. Adkins case as an intervenor as a member of the press to stop the judge from sealing that evidence from public view. I was supposed to argue my motion in Douglas County Washington District Court last Friday on a Zoom hearing, but that didn’t go as planned. Instead of making my carefully planned argument for free speech, the event was completely shut down by “Zoombombers.” These Zoombombers posted pornography, loud music, and other annoying things before the hearing began, which had the immediate effect of delaying justice as the hearing came to a crashing halt.
Opposing counsel Alex Thomason immediately jumped in to blame me, on the record, for posting a link to the public hearing online. He blamed my tweet with a link to the hearing for the cyberattack. We are to believe that one tweet with exactly one retweet was enough to get a viral campaign going. There are a few problems with this theory:
- I am heavily shadow-banned on Twitter. If anyone wants to see my tweets they have to go directly to my Twitter feed. My tweets do not auto-populate in public even for a bunch of people who follow me. They report to me regularly that they never see my tweets unless they go to my page, which would explain how I have over 5,000 followers but very few interactions on my tweets.
- I posted the link publicly mere minutes before the hearing began, giving it no time to spread widely.
- The tweet in question had one retweet by investigative journalist Mike Volpe, who has the same type of followers that I do — mostly parents, professionals, lawyers, and court nerds. No one who reads our work would act like jackals in a courtroom. It’s an outrageous smear against our readers, many of whom are professional court watchers, to allege that it was they who attacked the hearing.
- I recognized my usual followers, who were waiting quietly in the courtroom with their mics muted. I did not recognize any of the (most likely) bot accounts that attacked the hearing.
- I have shared links to public hearings many times before on social media and no one has ever disrupted one of those hearings including two other hearings in the Burkhart v. Adkins case. It is not logical that by my sharing of this hearing it suddenly became a target for Zoombombing trolls.
- Courts are supposed to take precautions so that these types of cyberattacks, which have been widely reported by the FBI and the press, do not occur. The Douglas County Court took no precautions, had no security in place, and did not know how to change the settings on their Zoom meeting to lock out cameras and microphones—a very simple step that could have had the meeting under control in a few minutes.
- One person in the courtroom was trained by the king of trolling himself, Donald J. Trump, to create viral moments. Opposing counsel Thomason, who immediately tried to blame me, is the only person in the courtroom that day who is a veteran of The Apprentice, where he learned from the best how to make a viral marketing campaign. If anyone could have made that attack happen that day with that level of success, it’s him. He is on the record admitting to “sitting” on my Twitter feed waiting for me to share the link. For what purpose? Both he and Moreau wanted this hearing in person to avoid public access, and both of them got what they wanted after that Zoombombing. Ask yourself who benefits from causing chaos at that hearing.
- In order to get a Zoombombing going, someone must post the link to a Zoombombing page on Discord, Reddit, or another platform where these things originate. I did not do that. I posted the public hearing to my Twitter and Facebook feed. If someone took that link and put it somewhere else in order to cause chaos, it certainly is not anything I could control. A “public” hearing is by definition public, and putting a link out for the public to view it is not a crime. I posted it for the public to have access to our justice system and to witness what happens in family court. I did NOT post the link so that hooligans could cause chaos and shut down my chance to be heard in this case. That would make no sense. The more likely scenario is that someone did this purposefully to shut down the public’s ability to witness this case. The only people who are on the record wanting secrecy are Moreau and Thomason. In fact, Moreau jumped into the chaos and yelled out, “This is why this case should be closed!” as soon as she could, vying to seal the whole case, which was quickly shot down by the judge. I have been very vocal in my belief that all court hearings should be open to the public and I have been fighting to keep this case open and transparent. I’m the last person who would cause chaos that would make it harder for the public to gain access to hearings in the future. That would completely undermine all my efforts, wasting months of my time and thousands of my dollars.
- Thomason said on the record that he is planning on filing sanctions against me for posting a public hearing on a public website that he says led to the Zoombombing. I sent Thomason a letter informing him that he better have evidence to back up the statements he made on the record or we are going to have a problem.
Dear Mr. Thomason,
You stated today that you have a screenshot of my tweet that supports your argument that the chaos this morning was somehow caused by me, which I categorically reject. Please immediately send me a copy of said tweet, and whatever other evidence you have to support your contention. If you refuse, I shall point out that you refused this reasonable request.
I respectfully remind you that per RPC 3.3, making false statements is prohibited by members of the bar association, and that per RPC 3.1, you have an ethical duty to investigate factual claims, thus, if you do not have specific evidence supporting your contention, you are violating your ethical obligations, and are thus also in violation of CR-11 which also imposes an affirmative duty to investigate the factual and legal basis for all claims and contentions.
I direct your attention to Biggs v. Vail, 124 Wn.2d 193, 201 (Wash. 1994) in which the Washington Supreme Court stated that prior to seeking sanctions, counsel should be warned and given the opportunity to correct the issue. If you are requesting sanctions against me per CR-11, please consider this notice that if you continue to make arguments unsupported by specific evidence you risk having sanctions assessed against you.
Finally, I also respectfully remind you that the First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, and while there might be reasonable compromises that could be worked out to facilitate the legitimate privacy interests of the children, a wholesale denial of access to the press, especially when there are such important public policy issues at work in this case, is inappropriate. I am willing to work with you to craft a reasonable resolution, what suggestions do you have to balance these important different interests?
Thomason did not respond. He did not send me the purported “evidence” he has linking me to any cyberattack either (because there isn’t anything but my tweet letting the public know about a public hearing they’re all entitled to attend). Do you think creating Zoombombs and threatening the press with sanctions is a depth to which corrupt court actors will sink to keep the public out of their fiefdoms? I do.
When a hearing was interrupted by porn and swastikas in a case in Ontario, no one blamed a litigant who shared the link in public.
Donovan told CBC News she shared the Zoom link to keep the public informed, and believes the hearing was targeted because it was a case involving police.
She said she has no regrets about sharing the link.
“Obviously the participants in that call were abusive and offensive, [but] anyone and everyone should be allowed to attend a court proceeding that is open to the public and then you deal with the conduct as it happens,” said Donovan.
Instead of blaming Donovan for sharing the link, the court took responsibility for being unprepared.
In a physical courtroom, anyone who disrupts proceedings would be subjected to contempt of court charges, said Kathryn Manning, co-chair of Ontario’s task force on court e-hearings. She told CBC News these incidents are relatively rare, and it’s important to ensure continued public access to the courts during the pandemic…The spokesperson said the ministry will review security mechanisms with court staff to ensure that future proceedings are not interrupted by offensive material.
If only Douglas County could do the same. One witness to the Burkhart v. Adkins Zoombomb called the clerk of the court and asked why they didn’t secure their hearing. The source reported that the clerk named me as the cause of the chaos for posting the public link to Twitter. The court took no responsibility for not knowing how to manage its own Zoom settings.
In Nebraska, when a Zoombombing attack occurred, the Clerk took responsibility for it and managed to keep the hearings open to the public.
“I spent my afternoon changing my security settings on Zoom,” Parsley said.
To keep it from happening again, her Zoom meetings now have a waiting room, where she has to let each attorney and party in before hearings. She also now doesn’t allow participants to share their screens.
“The bigger lesson learned is how sad it is that I probably should have anticipated this kind of activity from the beginning, but I just don’t like to expect the worst of humanity,” Parsley said.
Court Administrator Jared Gavin said District Court briefly had an issue during a hearing last week, too, but was able to shut it down almost immediately.
“We’ve now made changes to secure the meetings better but still have them open to the public,” he said.
Why can’t the Douglas County clerk do this and preserve public access to the court? Instead, Douglas County is going to restrict the public’s access to this public hearing where there are serious allegations of corruption and abuse.
Despite these challenges, I will be arguing my motion to intervene via telephone this coming Friday—unless a new disaster strikes delaying justice yet again.