Should parties make public the messy details about their divorce? In this day of blogs, MySpace and YouTube, this question comes up more often than you'd think.
April 22nd’s New Jersey paper Asbury Park Press contains an article about an attorney, John Paragano, who allegedly posted a video of his estranged wife Diana Prior on a MySpace page. The video, titled, "Superdiva Meltdown," allegedly contained selected portions of a video deposition New York radio personality Prior gave in the parties’ divorce case. Allegedly, the portions posted were selectively chosen to embarrass her and to reveal personal and embarrassing details of her life.
Prior is a former municipal court judge and currently a radio personality in New York. The parties had agreed to a mutual restraining order prohibiting harassment. Paragano explained the basis of the mutual TRO on NJ attorney Jef Henninger’s blog. Note: I have not corrected his spelling errors and have not posted his entire comment – which reveals more details exposing embarrassing private facts concerning not only his estranged wife but also her invalid mother who certainly, under the circumstances has a right to privacy. Paragano writes:
"SO here is the basis of the restraining order, and there are “mutual” restraining orders by the way. I created a screen name one letter off from the boyfriend, sent her an email, and was shocked to say the least at the responce [sic]. I created a meeting under the guise of the boyfriend, confronted my wife in public, announced I would be filing for divorce and was arrested in my driveway when I arrived home for “harrassment”. [sic] We agreed to mutual restraining orders as I was promised she would take her assets, I would take mine and we would go our seperate [sic] ways. That never came about, 30 days after filing her complaint for divorce for irr. differences, she amended her complaint to include a Tevis Claim, that was 18 months ago. She has attempted to violate me on the restraining order 5 times, again I have the police reports and proof."
Paragano denies that he ever had a MySpace web page and denied that he posted the video. However, it has been reported that only the parties and their attorneys had access to the videotape. After the posting on MySpace, Paragano was charged with violating the order and was arrested by police at 11:30 pm at his home. He posted bail to be released. According to Daily Record.com, Paragano said that Prior, whom he married two years ago, bad-mouthed his character, called him scurrilous names during the deposition, and expressed relief they never had children because a child of his would be a devil. Paragano said in his comment on Henniger’s blog that “Diane Prior knew she the [sic] deposition was on video, in fact in calling me a “slime” and a “scumbag”, she stated “I know he is watching me on video and I want him to to [sic] know he is a slime and scumbag”.
Are there First Amendment issues here? The mutual restraining order prohibits “harassment,” a pretty vague term, although the NJ statute probably defines it. Did the parties mean to restrain speech? Did they mean for the mutual restraining order to be a prior restraint against all comment about their marriage, their divorce process and about each other? Does the NJ statute define speech as harassment? If so, what kind of speech is defined as harassment?
Is this more like the Cavanaugh case I wrote about the other day where the speech isn’t deserving of protection and allowing the mutual restraining order, even though its is a prior restraint would be acceptable? Or is it more like the Krasnansky case I wrote about where although the blog was protected by the First Amendment there were some obvious invasion of privacy issues?
I don’t think there are libel and slander issues because it sounds as those when Prior called Paragano a slime and scumbag she was expressing an opinion and opinions are not actionable under libel and slander case law. What about invasion of privacy issues? Since Prior knew the deposition was on videotape, did she have any expectations of privacy? Charlie Abut, a New Jersey matrimonial attorney suggested on the ABA family law listserv that perhaps these parties should have had a pre-deposition confidentiality agreement. That’s a very good point.
As a final note, I might just say . . . And where are the "common decency" police when you really need them?
The blog about Cavanaugh's personal protection order restraining speech and the ex parte restraining order concerning Krasnansky’s blog about his messy divorce is found here.
The Asbury Park Press article is here.