By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
JULY 14, 2014
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Raphael Golb on Monday
BRENDAN MCDERMID / REUTERS
Five years after he was arrested in a case that tested the limits of free speech on the Internet in New York State, a man convicted of using fake email accounts to impersonate and malign his father’s academic rivals was sentenced on Monday to two months in jail.
The sentencing of Raphael Golb, the son of a prominent Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, came two months after the Court of Appeals struck down the state’s aggravated harassment law under which he had been charged, ruling that it was unconstitutionally vague and broad. The law made it illegal to communicate with someone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm.”
But the court upheld Mr. Golb’s convictions on criminal impersonation and forgery counts, for which he received the sentence of two months in jail and three years’ probation.
Justice Laura A. Ward of State Supreme Court in Manhattan ordered Mr. Golb to surrender on July 22.
Mr. Golb’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, said he had filed a new appeal of the jury’s verdict in light of the Court of Appeals decision, and said, in hindsight, that the original trial judge had made critical mistakes in instructing the jury.
Outside court, Mr. Golb said he had been sentenced to jail for what he considered at the time to be satire. He called the trial unfair. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “It could happen to anyone.”
Mr. Golb, 54, a lawyer who lives in Greenwich Village, waged a lengthy campaign over several years against the academic rivals of his father, Norman Golb. He used dozens of pseudonyms to accuse the rivals of ignoring or plagiarizing his father’s work to further their own careers.
He also opened email accounts in the names of some of his father’s academic enemies, then wrote messages in which they appeared to confess to plagiarizing his father’s works or wronging Norman Golb in other ways.
Before his sentencing, Mr. Golb told Justice Ward that while he had never intended to commit a crime, “It was still inappropriate for me to send these emails.” He expressed remorse, saying his mother had spent her life savings on his defense and that his father had faced attacks from other professors because of his actions.
John Bandler, an assistant district attorney, urged the judge to give Mr. Golb a year in jail, saying his “malicious course of conduct of many months” was intended to destroy the careers of several scholars.
The authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls is the focus of academic debate. Many scholars ascribe them to the Essenes, a Jewish sect of ascetics. Others, like Professor Golb, who teaches at the University of Chicago, argue that the scrolls were the work of various Jewish communities.
Prosecutors argued at trial that the email campaign violated the misdemeanor harassment law. Mr. Golb was convicted of 30 counts of aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, identity theft, forgery and unauthorized use of a computer. He was initially sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation, though he was released on bail pending an appeal.
An appellate court overturned the one conviction on identity theft. Then the state’s highest court threw out the aggravated harassment convictions. The majority ruled that the only limits on speech should be words that, by the utterance alone, inflict injury or tend to evoke immediate violence. Merely annoying speech should not be criminal, the court said.
The State Legislature has since passed a revised version of the law intended to address those concerns.
But Mr. Golb and Mr. Kuby say the high court’s decision has cast doubt on the forgery and criminal impersonation convictions because the jury was instructed that Mr. Golb could be found guilty of those charges if the targeted scholars suffered any slight injury, even to reputation.