Subpoena seeks IDs for two Twitter accounts

Negative comments about Corbett, Bonusgate probed

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The Pennsylvania attorney general issued a subpoena to Twitter earlier this month seeking the identities of two account holders who have repeatedly posted negative comments about Tom Corbett and his Bonusgate investigation.

The subpoena seeks the subscriber information for two Twitter accounts, bfbarbie and CasablancaPA. The subpoena was issued by the attorney general's statewide investigating grand jury on May 6 and was posted Tuesday on the website casablancapa.blogspot.com.

The subpoena does not specify what crime is being investigated or who the possible defendant might be.

Though the subpoena asked that the records be produced at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, May 14, Twitter has not yet turned them over.

Timothy Yip, legal counsel for the social networking site, said the company protects user information and discloses it only in limited circumstances.

When permissible, Twitter will alert a user that a request has been made for their information and that the company might have to comply, he said.

"This policy is designed for maximum transparency and gives users an opportunity to object," Mr. Yip said.

Signor Ferrari, an alias used by one of three people who post to the CasablancaPA blog, said the group received notice of the subpoena from Twitter on Tuesday night.

"Our initial reaction was to publicize it," Ferrari said."This is not about protecting the identities of these particular bloggers. This is about the constitutionally protected right of Americans to criticize public officials anonymously."

The people who post at CasablancaPA are unsure what's being investigated. No one from bfbarbie could be reached for comment.

Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said because of secrecy requirements, he could not comment on the grand jury investigation.

"I can tell you it has nothing to do with criticizing an elected official," he said. "It has nothing to do with that."

But Ferrari wasn't as sure.

"He comments on the grand jury when it's convenient for him and retreats behind the cloak of secrecy when it's not."

Witold Walczak, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, will assist in representing CasablancaPA in fighting the subpoena.

"The subpoena to Twitter for identifying information for people who have been critical of the attorney general raises grave concerns about the grand jury process to retaliate against political criticism and opponents -- a most serious First Amendment violation," Mr. Walczak said.

Generally, the next step in the process would be to file a motion to quash the subpoena and allow a judge to determine if the justification for seeking the information can overcome the witnesses' First Amendment interests, he said.

It is unclear what the timetable for that will be.

Ferrari would not comment on who runs the CasablancaPA blog or if they have any relationship to any of the Bonusgate defendants.

However, in a sentencing memorandum filed against former legislative aide Brett Cott in Dauphin County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday, Senior Deputy Attorney Generals Frank Fina and Patrick Blessington attributed the blog to Mr. Cott.

"Defendant has extensively and anonymously utilized a blog titled 'CasablancaPA: Exposing the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett' to defect blame and deny responsibility for his criminal conduct and to attack and malign the investigative and prosecutorial process, which resulted in his conviction," they wrote.

In an e-mail, Mr. Cott declined to comment.

"Tom Corbett is completely and without a doubt using the grand jury process in a way that is completely and without question, inappropriate," said Bryan S. Walk, Mr. Cott's attorney. "There is nothing to uncover that could be remotely connected to any criminal investigation. The timing of the subpoena smacks of attempts to intimidate him and enhance his sentence."

He would not comment on whether his client is associated with CasablancaPA.

A jury last month found Mr. Cott guilty of theft of service, conflict of interest and conspiracy to commit conflict of interest.

The prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 18 to 44 months -- much higher than the standard -- for Mr. Cott who was found guilty of three felonies in the Bonusgate corruption scandal. They cited a history of "dishonorable and deceptive behavior," and called Mr. Cott "a remorseless, defiant repeat offender who is apparently incapable of contrition."

He will be the first of three co-defendants to be sentenced in the case, which centers around the use of $1.8 million in public funds to provide bonuses to state employees who worked on campaigns.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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