BOB GARFIELD: Crystal Cox’s online acting out doesn't stop at persistent blog posts or with the victims, in this case. She’s also gone to some trouble, through search engine optimization and hundreds of websites, to tar the reputations of her many targets, people like New York Times columnist David Carr and First Amendment lawyer, Marc Randazza. We spoke to Randazza in the spring of 2012 about Cox’s online reputation racket. Cox had asked Randazza to represent her in court pro bono. After a kerfuffle, he ended up not representing her, and she retaliated by registering such domain names as MarcRandazza.com, MarcRandazza Sucks.com, MarcRandazzaIsaLyingAHole.com, and others. She then offered, through her reputation management services, to take those websites down, for a price.
MARC RANDAZZA: It would be akin to you doing a, a hit piece on me and then saying, well, I can be a journalist today but I can be your public relations agent tomorrow, and if I do that, well, we can clean up all this mess that I made. And I told her I thought that that was unethical and uncalled for, and asked her to give the domain name to me. And she refused and went off on a tear.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about the tear.
MARC RANDAZZA: I could go through it and find portions of it that were defamatory. Much of it was opinion, and it was negative opinion but it’s – you know, she thought I was pompous and arrogant and well, I mean, that’s a requirement to be a member of the Bar, I think. I always preach this mantra, that the cure for bad speech is more speech. Then she started to target my wife.
My wife is just a wonderful person. I mean, she is – in her wedding vows to me she wrote that she would stand like Anita Garibaldi next to me in all my crazy fights. And, you know, that actually chokes me up, to even repeat that. I said, I, I got to tell you something. You’ve been now dragged into one of my battles. I was stunned at, at how much it just rolled off her back. She said, I, I don’t really care.
So when that didn’t have the desired response, then Ms. Cox went after Natalia, who is my three-year-old daughter. While I considered legal action, at that point, I thought this is the time where I have to tell the story. In telling the story, other people saw that story and said, enough’s enough. I knew I had to stand up and say something because the next person is not gonna be a First Amendment attorney. The next person might be somebody particularly vulnerable. The next person might actually pay her requested $2500 a month in, quote, unquote, “reputation service management.”
BOB GARFIELD: At any point in this siege, did it ever occur to you to call the FBI?
MARC RANDAZZA: That discussion came up, but I wanted the front line of this to be that the First Amendment works. Even an unsavory person like her has First Amendment rights, and I even still believe in her First Amendment rights. If we’re gonna believe in the First Amendment, we have to believe in it for the American Nazi Party wanting to march in Skokie and we have to believe in it for, you know, somebody like her going absolutely crazy anytime somebody doesn’t do her will. And if you can withstand that, without involving Federal authorities, I think you ought to.
BOB GARFIELD: Marc, when your three-year-old was being dragged into your own personal First Amendment nightmare, at any point did you come to doubt the sanctity of free speech?
MARC RANDAZZA: Fortunately, I thought about this before my daughter was born. I talked to a former partner of mine, Jessica Christensen, who’s been a real good barometer for, for my beliefs, and when I, when I need something like this, I talk to her, and I said, doing what I do has been one thing when it’s only been me, when I represent these unpopular causes, when I’m standing up for the rights of adult entertainment companies, and I can weather that because this is what I’ve chosen to do. But now there’s an innocent person coming into the world, and she’s gonna be at school and the kids are gonna learn how to use Google, and are they gonna look at her and go, “Your father’s a smut lawyer?”
And Jessica’s advice has always resonated in me, and she said, you know, you have to take care of your family, but part of taking care of your family is showing moral leadership. And this is what you believe in and this is what you want your family to believe in, when, you know, God forbid – I mean, you know, we all rebel against our parents. So, who knows, maybe one day she’ll be working for the Department of Justice on the Obscenity Task Force -
- and I’ll, I’ll be saying, I have no daughter. But until then, I have to live with my daydream that one day she’ll be sitting there as my law partner and, and we’ll be fighting these cases together.
BOB GARFIELD: Marc, thank you very much.
MARC RANDAZZA: It’s my pleasure, anytime.
BOB GARFIELD: Marc Randazza is a First Amendment lawyer who blogs at The Legal Satyricon. When we spoke to him back in April of 2012, he was pondering his options. In the end, he decided to take Cox to court - and yes, he won. He told us this week that his legal strategy had nothing to do with the content of Cox’s. His arguments, he explained, were based on domain law, and those court arguments are available upon request, for free, should you ever find yourself in Cox’s crosshairs.
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BOB GARFIELD: That’s it for this week's show. On the Media [LAUGHS] was produced by Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman, Chris Neary, Laura Mayer, Meera Sharma and Alana Casanova-Burgess. We had more help from Kimmie Regler. And our show was edited - by Brooke. Our technical director is Jennifer Munson. Our engineers this week were Andrew Dunne and Rick Kwan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Katya Rogers is our executive producer. Jim Schachter is WNYC’s Vice President for News. Bassist composer Ben Allison wrote our theme. On the Media is produced by WNYC and distributed by NPR. I’m Brooke Gladstone.