Fredric Eshelman, the owner of the ranch in a widely watched corner-crossing trespass case, wants Google to unmask an anonymous critic who said Eshelman “abused police resources” during the Carbon County trespass conflict.
A California judge should force Google LLC to reveal the true identity of the person who used the pseudonymous email account firstname.lastname@example.org to call the pharmaceutical magnate “a piece of s**t,” and tell others to “cease partnerships” with the company Eshelman Ventures, according to Eshelman’s legal filings.
Eshelman needs the identity of the J. Doe behind the fake email address to sue him or her in Germany and India for defamation, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, San Jose Division.
At issue are statements in the emails that the billionaire owner of Elk Mountain Ranch “abused police resources” by “repeatedly sending game wardens and officers after hunters that were ‘corner crossing’ into public land.”
That statement “is blatantly false,” Eshelman states in his application for a subpoena to discover the identity of Doe. U.S. District Judge Edward Davila approved the subpoena May 9, but will hear challenges by Doe and Google before deciding whether it will go into effect.
Doe’s identity is protected information under U.S. laws, lawyers for the anonymous critic and Google say. The judge has set a hearing for Aug. 24 to consider Doe and Google’s motions to stop the unmasking.
Eshelman wants to sue Doe overseas for defamation because the critical emails went “to various of Dr. Eshelman’s contacts, including companies and their representatives based in Germany and India.”
The convoluted legal action filed Jan. 13 to ascertain “discovery for use in foreign proceedings,” has raised First Amendment freedom-of-speech worries among public-interest advocates.
“Can Frederic [sic] Eshelman Avoid the First Amendment by Claiming That He Plans to Sue a U.S. Critic Abroad?” attorney Paul Alan Levy of the Public Citizen Litigation Group titled a blog posted on the Public Citizen website.
The fracas grew from incidents in 2020 and 2021 when four Missouri hunters corner crossed at Eshelman’s 22,045-acre ranch, stepping from one piece of public land to another without setting foot on private property. The corner crossing took place at the intersection of four parcels, two private and two public, arranged in a checkerboard pattern.
Eshelman’s property manager Steve Grende badgered law officers to get their superiors to cite the hunters. “Do they realize how much money my boss has?” Grende stated in a meeting with a warden and deputy captured on a body-cam video.
Attorney Levy, who represents Doe, said in his blog that Eshelman “used his political influence” to get Carbon County Attorney Ashley Mayfield Davis to file trespass charges. Those alleged the hunters trespassed by passing through the airspace above Elk Mountain Ranch at the intersection of the four corners. A jury found the hunters not guilty in 2022.
Eshelman’s civil suit against the hunters, which sought up to $7.75 million in damages, also failed.
In seeking to unmask Doe, Eshelman’s attorneys called their client a “leader in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries” and claimed that Doe irreparably harmed his reputation. The foreign connections arise because “Doe published these statements in Germany and India to a digital technology company called Carbon3D [and] a company called 6 Degrees PR,” according to court filings.
Eshelman’s lawyers rejected Doe’s claim of police abuse. “Dr. Eshelman only contacted authorities after learning that three individuals had trespassed onto his private Wyoming property,” filings state.
Doe made other statements in the emails, including that Eshelman “sent $2.5 million to the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement.” Doe also sent a message to an Eshelman employee calling the Stop the Steal movement “traitorous.”
“I guess I have a message for Fred from one American to another,” Doe stated, according to filings. “You’re a piece of s**t and there is no place in heaven for people like you. F**k you and your family.”
Eshelman needs the identity of Doe, “[s]o he may identify and locate Doe for litigation,” court papers state. His attorneys did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
Doe wants to remain anonymous, according to a declaration filed through attorney Levy.
“Considering that my email about Eshelman simply expressed my opinion about a controversy that had been covered in the media, I am asking the Court not to let Eshelman compel disclosure of my identity,” Doe stated in a document on which his or her true name is redacted.
“I do not know any lawyers in India, or Germany. I do not know how I could possibly defend myself if Eshelman were to sue me there,” the declaration states. Also, Doe lives in “Trump Country,” according to the declaration.
“If I were identified as having sent the email expressing critical views of the many people who claim that Trump really won the election in 2020,” Doe wrote, “I am worried that the disclosure might affect me economically and socially.”
Revealing Doe’s identity would saddle him or her with “the burden of defending abroad in the courts, and at home against hostile people in my community.”
Google lawyers also resisted the subpoena, which “appears to be an attempt to circumvent the policies of the United States,” the company stated in court filings. Eshelman has failed to present “evidence of ‘real harm’ that outweighs the speaker’s First Amendment rights,” Google attorneys state.
Also, there are no involved companies in Germany and India as Eshelman claims, according to Google.
The principal of 6 Degrees PR lives in Philadelphia suburbs while Carbon3D is a company headquartered in Redwood City, California, Google stated.
The subpoena “conflicts with the policies of the United States and does not satisfy the First Amendment safeguards applicable to anonymous speech,” Google says. The judge should quash the subpoena, the tech company states.
“By pursuing defamation suits in Germany and India, [Eshelman] appears to be attempting to sidestep the First Amendment,” Google wrote. “Unmasking the Anonymous ‘would unduly chill speech, and deter other critics from exercising their First Amendment Rights,’” Google stated.
Doe’s statements were clearly opinion, Google said.
“This statement [about abusing police resources] was accompanied by a [link to a] news article, which describes a prosecutor’s dismissal of indictments against the hunters and a jury’s finding that the aforementioned hunters were found not guilty,” Google wrote. “Thus, the Anonymous Speaker has disclosed the basis for his conclusion,” which lawyers say is not defamation but rather free speech that’s protected by the First Amendment.