Court Denies Challenge to D.C. Sex Offender’s Website on Registry Officials
A website that “registers” and posts photos of government employees who work in the District of Columbia’s sex offender registration office is protected by the First Amendment, a D.C. Superior Court held in a February 14, 2014 memorandum opinion.
Dennis Sobin, a convicted sex offender, is required to register every three months with the D.C. Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), and his picture is posted on the District’s sex offender registry. Sobin, 70, spent over ten years in prison for using a minor while filming a pornographic movie, though he is not your run-of-the-mill pornographer.
Following his release he founded the non-profit Prisons Foundation and Safe Streets Art Foundation, which sell artwork created by prisoners. The foundations also maintain a D.C. art gallery and sponsor programs at the Kennedy Center; they have received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. [See: PLN, March 2007, p.19].
Using his creative skills, Sobin designed a website called the Idiots Registry and posted a list of employees responsible for enforcing the District’s sex offender registry. “Here at www.idiotsregistry.info you will find the names of politicians and public figures who have encouraged the creation of, or have refused to denounce, government registration websites that target citizens for harassment,” the site proclaims.
In addition to posting employees’ names and photos, the website includes information about other registries, including a registry of Jews in Nazi Germany prior to World War II, and examples of opposition to sex offender registries in the U.S.
“In the tradition of Nazi registration of Jews and Gypsies and the Salem lists of alleged witches, modern government registries are unfair and un-American,” Sobin declared.
The Idiots Registry site includes photos of a number of CSOSA employees with insulting nicknames provided by Sobin, such as “Fat Man” Leonard Dunning, “Limp Dick” Edmond Pears and “Aunt Jemima” Yolanda Stokes. He distributed flyers containing the photos in the CSOSA office building.
The website was not well received by CSOSA registry specialist Stephanie Gray, who filed for a civil protection order and accused Sobin of stalking her.
“He writes derogatory information about me ... and he continues to trash the bldg. where I am with pictures he has taken of me without me knowing,” she stated in her petition. Gray asked the court to order Sobin to remove the website and “stop making copies of this negative/degrading information.”
But Sobin asserted that he was acting within his First Amendment rights. “If it’s not punishment to be on a list, we thought we’d put the people who do the registering on a list,” he stated – i.e., registering the registerers. He also found an ally in the American Civil Liberties Union, which submitted an amicus brief in his defense.
Art Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU’s D.C. office, pointed out that Sobin’s actions were constitutionally protected and noted that “People are allowed to embarrass each other and make each other feel bad when making a political point.”
The Superior Court agreed. “As offensive as Petitioner found the ‘Idiots Registry’ and the flyers disseminated by Respondent, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects Respondent’s right to engage in this type of speech,” the court wrote.
Sobin said he hopes the ruling will inspire anti-registry advocates to employ the same strategy nationwide. “The judge’s opinion will be used as ammunition around the country,” he stated. The website with photos of CSOSA employees remains active; meanwhile, Gray reportedly transferred to another job position. See: Gray v. Sobin, Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Domestic Violence Unit, Case No. 2013 CPO 3690.
Additional sources: www.washingtonpost.com, www.idiotsregistry.info
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Related legal case
Gray v. Sobin
|Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Domestic Violence Unit, Case No. 2013 CPO 3690
|State Trial Court