• 05.21.10

Pennsylvania Attorney General and Gubernatorial Candidate Subpoenas His Twitter Critics

Pennsylvania is having an interesting week, politically. Representative Joe Sestak (from my home district–PA-7, represent) defeated long-term, moderate-Republican-turned-liberal-Democrat Arlen Specter in the Democratic Senate primary. Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns by a whopping 10 points in a special election for the PA-12 seat vacated by John Murtha, even though the race was supposed to be a nail-biter.

Joe Sestak

Corbett subpoenaed Twitter earlier this month for the names of two of its users, going by the names “CasablancaPA” and “bfbarbie.” The former user has a blog by the same name which accuses Corbett (with some pretty serious language, I have to say) of corrupt hypocrisy as regards the Pennsylvania “Bonusgate” scandal. Bonusgate, in short, was an investigation by Corbett’s office into the possible handing out of bonuses to staffers on state payroll for campaign work, which is illegal by Pennsylvania law. CasablancaPA accuses Corbett’s investigation of being politically motivated (he allegedly investigated only Democrats and not his own party for several months, and is accused of engaging in the same bonus practices himself, as well as intimidating critics), and is frequently updated both on the blog and via Twitter.


It gets crazier: Corbett, along with many others, think CasablancaPA is run by Brett Cott, who had a whopping 42 charges brought against him during Bonusgate–but was acquitted of all but three. Corbett accuses Cott of using his blog and Twitter account to “deflect blame and deny responsibility for his criminal conduct.” Cott’s lawyer, though he did not admit his client was behind CasablancaPA, replied, bluntly and hilariously, “For them to say, ‘Judge, you should whack him for not being contrite,’ is crazy. And it’s them trying to save face because they got their ass handed to them at trial.”

Corbett in turn subpoenaed Twitter, based in San Francisco, for the real names of those two users. It’s unclear what exactly those subpoenas could be used for, since the right to make anonymous speech is a pretty well-established law, and public criticism of a publicly elected official is even an established tradition in American politics.

Twitter, predictably, declined to supply those names, and the two users (or possibly a single user) iare being represented by the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU. Corbett’s office is set to further explain their rationale Friday morning–hopefully they’ve got something good, because at the moment, the case is being interpreted as the state Attorney General using the power of his office to silence critics–and that certainly won’t win any statewide elections.

Dan Nosowitz, the author of this post, can be followed on Twitter, corresponded with via email, and stalked in San Francisco (no link for that one–you’ll have to do the legwork yourself).

About the author

Dan Nosowitz is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Popular Science, The Awl, Gizmodo, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. He holds an undergraduate degree from McGill University and currently lives in Brooklyn, because he has a beard and glasses and that's the law.