The Council on American-Islamic Relations Action Network can move ahead with a lawsuit against a former intern accused of stealing more than 12,000 internal documents, a Washington federal court judge ruled on Friday.
The group is suing the former intern, Chris Gaubatz, and his father, author and self-described counterterrorism researcher Paul Gaubatz. The Washington-based Muslim advocacy nonprofit claims Chris Gaubtz posed as a Muslim college student as a ruse to secure an internship, and then stole the documents and e-mails for his father.
That Chris Gaubatz obtained the internal documents and gave them to his father is undisputed; in Paul Gaubatz’s 2009 book, “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America,” he describes the plan at-length. The two sides dispute whether the documents were taken unlawfully and also whether the publication of the documents constitutes protected speech.
The father and son filed for dismissal (PDF), claiming that Paul Gaubatz had a First Amendment right to publish information based on the documents his son obtained from the organization, among other things.
In an opinion (PDF) issued Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly disagreed, writing that the First Amendment doesn’t always protect the publication of information that was unlawfully obtained. The question of lawfulness in this case is one for discovery and trial, she wrote.
“The protections afforded by the First Amendment, far reaching as they may be, do not place the unlawful acquisition of information beyond the reach of judicial review,” she wrote.
Kollar-Kotelly did dismiss one of CAIR-AN’s claims against the defendants, relating to allegations that Chris Gaubatz unlawfully made copies of e-mails and other electronic documents. The judge dismissed the group’s conversion claim, writing that the complaint is “devoid of any allegation that Defendants deleted, corrupted, or otherwise interfered with Plaintiffs’ control over their electronic data.”
The nonprofit is being represented by in-house counsel Nadhira Al-Khalili, who could not be reached this afternoon. Lead counsel for the defendants is Martin Garbus of New York’s Eaton & Van Winkle, who also could not immediately be reached.