A union official convicted two years ago of “cyber-stalking” a former state representative for Warren and Bristol has appealed the conviction; a Superior Court judge is expected to determine the next step at a pretrial conference this Tuesday.
John Leidecker, a staffer with the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) was convicted in September 2011 of cyberstalking State Representative Douglas Gablinske, a Bristol resident who represented parts of Warren and Bristol in the General Assembly (District 68) from 2007 to 2010.
Mr. Leidecker was convicted of sending out bogus e-mails under a name similar to Rep. Gablinske’s, in which he misrepresented Rep. Gablinske’s stance on Mt. Hope Bridge tolls, to which he was opposed. Speculation was that Mr. Leidecker’s intent was to discredit Rep. Gablinske, who during his two terms in office had been critical of state unions, including the education union, by calling for pension reform and other issues unpopular with state unions.
Mr. Leidecker’s connection to the emails was discovered after Rep. Gablinske heard of the e-mails and brought the matter to Bristol police; after an investigation, detectives discovered that the offending emails had been sent from Mr. Leidecker’s computer. After being arrested, he said his actions were protected under free speech.
A Superior Court judge disagreed and in September 2011 found Mr. Leidecker guilty of cyberstalking.
In motion to dismiss filed with the court, Mr. Leidecke’s attorney, Rober Mann, argues that the state cannot prove that Mr. Leidecker’s intent was to harass Mr. Gablinske, as is required under the statute.
Instead, he wrote that Mr. Leidecker’s supposed cyberbullying was part of a “political dispute with Rep. Gablinske, and thus was protected speech.
Rep. Gablinske ultimately lost a 2010 primary race for the office to Richard Morrison, a Democrat whose run was heavily funded by state unions, including the NEARI.
If it is overturned, he wrote, “the message you would send … would encourage, rather than punish these types of intimidating and illegal actions. His efforts were to stalk, intimidate and cause me to fear for my safety and that of my family. He knows it and I know it.”
If fear and intimidation weren’t the aim, he added, “he would have used his right to ‘free speech’ and acted like a man and said what he had to say publicly, and not hidden like a coward behind the cloak and dagger cyber world.”