Ohio man given choice of Facebook apology or jail

Feb 24, 2012 By LISA CORNWELL , Associated Press
In a Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 photo, Mark Byron, a local photographer, holds his iPad with a photo of himself and his son, in his studio in Cincinatti, Ohio. Byron is involved in a divorce suit with his wife, Elizabeth, that has spilled over into Facebook. Due to a post on his Facebook page about his divorce and custody restrictions in November of 2011, a Hamilton County judge gave Byron the choice of going to jail or apologizing to her on the page for 30 days. He chose the apology, but plans to appeal. (AP Photo/The Enquirer, Liz Dufour) NO SALES

(AP) -- A man who was threatened with jail time for posting comments about his estranged wife on his personal Facebook page unless he posted daily apologies for a month says the court ruling violates his freedom of speech.

Mark Byron of Cincinnati is making the to avoid 60 days in jail, but he plans to appeal the domestic relations court ruling. Byron and and media experts say it should concern other users of the social networking site.

With hundreds of millions of people using Facebook for communication, Byron said Friday that "if they can do this to me, they can do it to others."

The idea "that anybody could tell you what to say to your friends on Facebook should be scary to people," said Cincinnati attorney Jill Meyer, who specializes in free speech and media issues.

The ruling is highly unusual and "troubling because it's a court telling someone to say something to - in some regards - his chosen group of friends," said Meyer. She noted that the comments were not directed to Byron's , Elizabeth Byron, who was blocked from accessing the page.

According to the ruling, Byron posted comments on his page in November, saying in part, "If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband's life and take your son's father away from him completely - all you need to do is say you're scared of your husband or domestic partner and they'll take him away."

The Byrons are involved in ongoing divorce and child custody proceedings. Byron has said his wife and the court have prevented him from seeing his 17-month-old son many times. The court maintains he is allowed to see him on a twice-weekly basis.

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers last month found Byron in contempt of a protective order over his Facebook comments. Meyers said that Byron could avoid a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine by posting the apology - written by Meyers - to his wife and all of his and paying her attorney fees.

The June court order prohibited Byron from causing his wife physical or mental abuse, harassment or annoyance. She asked in December that he be found in contempt after learning of the Facebook comments.

Byron's comments expressed frustration, but they were not threats and he didn't make them to his wife, said Cincinnati attorney Jack Greiner, who also specializes in free speech and media issues.

Greiner said he doesn't think the First Amendment "allows a court to find that someone has harassed or caused a person to suffer mental abuse merely by expressing one's opinion about a court proceeding in a non-threatening way."

Greiner said that a court compelling speech through a court-written apology raises as many free speech concerns as actions prohibiting free speech.

The statement that Byron says he has been posting since Feb. 13 has him apologizing to his wife for "casting her in an unfavorable light" and to his Facebook friends for "attempting to mislead them." Byron said he is being forced to make statements that are false.

The magistrate's assistant said Friday that Meyers cannot comment on pending court cases. Elizabeth Byron's attorney did not immediately return calls.

The ruling found that several of Mark Byron's comments were "clearly intended to be mentally abusive, harassing and annoying" to his wife and "generate a negative and venomous response to her from his Facebook friends."

Responses by Facebook friends to his posting caused Elizabeth Byron to be "afraid and concerned," according to court documents.

Byron and his attorney, Becky Ford, say he made his comments out of frustration and never expected his wife to see them since she couldn't access his account.

"Once he made the comments, some of his Facebook friends started making inflammatory comments which he had no control over," Ford said.

His were "nothing other than free speech communication where he was venting truthful information," Ford said.

Bryon is scheduled to appear in March 19 and show proof that he posted the apology or go to jail.

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User comments : 8

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TheSpiceIsLife
5 / 5 (5) Feb 24, 2012
I would prefer to serve the jail term than submit to a court order dictating what I will say to my friends.

This constitutes an abuse of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 states:

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

plasticpower
not rated yet Feb 25, 2012
Similar thing happened to my friend, although he wasn't required to post anything on Facebook. This is ridiculous. Does common sense exist in courts anymore?
OldBlackCrow
5 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2012
I would have chosen jail... or an extremely sarcastic apology with the circumstances surrounding it. Apply for appeal and go to the press. Ohio has held up some really f***ed up laws.
cmn
5 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2012
Isn't the judge/wife inferring the actions of his friends based solely on his post? i.e. Assuming his friend's motivation to harass/harm his wife would be based solely on his words? This is like a conviction based purely on circumstantial evidence, no witnesses, and no jury. Then, not only are they trying to keep him from speaking his mind, they're also trying to make him speak their minds. When did Ohio turn into a dictatorship run by Nazis?

And, for the record, the dude's ex does sound like a vindictive psycho, given how she's playing this divorce.
kochevnik
3 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2012
Under common masonic agendas judges are instructed to emasculate men, so as to break up families and make children functionally dependent upon the state. Girls raised without fathers are permanently wounded. They acquire the victim mentality dependent upon the courts, and thus perpetuate the cycle of fatherless families.
bhiestand
not rated yet Feb 25, 2012
Since this is supposed to be a science-y site, let's be intellectually honest. There's not enough information in this article to make any conclusion regarding the wife. The husband could have been highly abusive, he could have been emotionally abusive... he could have made direct threats in the past, leading to the initial protective order.

Likewise, the wife could be lying about being afraid of her husband, or she could genuinely feel it but have no rational reason to do so (could be delusional or paranoid).

Without further information and context, nobody here can judge.
Ensign_nemo
5 / 5 (2) Feb 25, 2012
Exactly how can a man "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" if a judge can throw him in jail for two months for simply posting his grievances on a website?

Are judges required to read the Constitution before they take their oaths of office these days?

For the record, here's the entire First Amendment to the US Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2012
The bible says it best:

"16 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment - wickedness was there,
in the place of justice - wickedness was there." ecc3