ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York's highest court on Tuesday upheld a man's convictions for criminal impersonation and forgery for using Internet aliases to damage reputations, opening a portal for other prosecutions in the computer age.
The Court of Appeals upheld 19 misdemeanor charges against Raphael Golb, who used online pseudonyms to mock scholars in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls. The judges concluded that many of Golb's emails were "more than a prank intended to cause temporary embarrassment" and therefore rose to the misdemeanor charges.
"He acted with intent to do real harm," Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote. The criminal impersonation statute has been traditionally applied in cases of tangible injury, but it was written broadly enough to include reputational harm, she wrote.
In a sharply worded dissent, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said the convictions should be thrown out and that the top court was giving New York prosecutors "powers they should not have to determine what speech should and should not be penalized." Its new standard amounts to criminal libel, something the U.S. Supreme Court rejected in the 1960s and New York repealed decades ago, he wrote.
Golb, an attorney and writer, disguised his identity in email messages and blog posts from 2006 to 2009 to discredit detractors of his father, a University of Chicago professor, in a dispute over the scrolls' origins.
In emails, Golb impersonated some scholars who subscribe to the Qumran-Sectarian theory. It posits that the more than 2,000-year-old documents, found in the 1940s in what is now Israel and containing the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible, were the writings of a sect known as the Essenes.
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