The First Amendment Clinic at the Kramer Law Clinic Center at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland has become involved in the lawsuit of Beachwood Police Chief Katherine McLaughlin and the City of Beachwood against John Doe.

Andrew Geronimo, director of the First Amendment Clinic at the Kramer Law Clinic Center, and Sara Coulter, First Amendment fellow, filed the limited appearance and deadline extension request with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Feb. 1, and included certified legal interns Kennedy Dickson, Abigale Groseclose, Vincent Palumbo and Zachary Tomi on the filing. They are all identified as members of John Doe’s legal team.

The case, filed by McLaughlin’s legal counsel Daniel Powell and Michael Pelagalli of Minc Law LLC in Orange on Dec. 23, 2022, deals with anonymous emails and social media posts critical of Beachwood senior administrative staff, including McLaughlin.

Named as defendant John Doe in the original filing, McLaughlin and the city are seeking injunctive relief and damages arising out of a “persistent and continuous course of tortious conduct by an unknown individual whose malicious actions, which are carried out through various internet personas, cause harm to McLaughlin’s reputation, the city’s operations, and other collective and individual protected interests of the plaintiffs,” that original filing read. The emails and Facebook posts were sent in September 2022.

According to that original filing, McLaughlin and the city hope to determine the identity of John Doe, otherwise known as “Amin Yashed” in some postings, through the discovery process, after which the lawsuit will be amended as necessary to specify their identity, capacity and residence, and to effectuate service.

The Feb. 1 filing indicates that the defendant using the pseudonym Amin Yashed “has not been served with the summons and complaint in this action, and the undersigned enter their limited appearance with authorization in order to preserve this defendant’s ability to assert additional defenses, including but not limited to jurisdictional defenses such as failure of service.”

The filing states the defendant “intends to oppose the Motion to Authorize Discovery to Obtain Identifying Information of Defendant.”

Since the legal team was “only recently retained,” the brief extension of deadlines would also place a stay on any discovery applicable to John Doe to allow the team to “consult with the client on the appropriate steps going forward on this matter,” the filing reads. It also requests all case materials be sent to members of the legal team.

An amicus brief by Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer rights advocacy group and think tank based in Washington, D.C. that serves members in all 50 states, was also filed Jan. 20, sharing the opinion that using the lawsuit to determine the identity of the anonymous poster would violate their First Amendment Rights and create a “substantial risk of harm to the speaker, who forever loses the right to remain anonymous, and may be exposed to efforts to punish or deter her speech. Whatever the reason for speaking anonymously, a rule that makes it too easy to remove the cloak of anonymity will deprive the marketplace of ideas of valuable contributions.”

The lawsuit follows a December 2022 no-confidence vote against McLaughlin and deputy chief John Resek by members of the Beachwood Police Union, meaning a majority of the union does not have confidence in the policy and leadership of McLaughlin and Resek.

Publisher’s note: Aaron Minc, principal and founder of Minc Law, is a member of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company Board of Directors.

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