While he was facing a charge of cyberstalking a Rhode Island politician, a senior executive with the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI) was promoted to the number two position in the state.
John A. Leidecker, now deputy director of the NEARI, was found guilty on Sept. 20, 2011 on a misdemeanor charge of cyber-stalking and fined $100.
Leidecker, who is an attorney, created fake email accounts in which he generated messages in September 2010 that were designed to embarrass a state representative who was running for reelection, Douglas Gablinske of Bristol, an outspoken opponent critic of the state’s school funding formula.
Gablinske lost his reelection bid and his wife testified that he suffered rising blood pressure and lost weight as he dealt with the e-mails.
Leidecker was subsequently arrested by Rhode Island state police and placed on trial by a Bristol Assistant Solicitor. During the trial, Leidecker’s lawyer said the e-mails represented a parody and that Leidecker was exercising his right to free speech by forwarding the e-mails to Gablinske.
Judge Stephen M. Isherwood said his research did not find any previous Rhode Island cases where the court “addressed free-speech issues in the context of harassment.” He said Leidecker’s conduct met the criteria for cyber-stalking – conduct “that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, or be in fear of bodily injury.”
The judge said Leidecker used e-mail communications in a way that made Gablinske think someone was impersonating him, causing Gablinske to be “seriously alarmed, annoyed and bothered each time the defendant pushed the send button on his computer.”
Leidercker is appealing his conviction.
According to The Providence Journal, Leidecker created an e-mail account for a fictional person named Walter Flatus, which is the same name as a character in a children’s book about a dog who passes gas. Leidecker also set up an e-mail account for a second person, “Doug Gablinski.”
Then, Leidecker created a chain of e-mail communications that made it appear as if the two characters were talking to one another.
In one exchange, the fictional Gablinski character wrote the following to the fictional Flatus: “Bridges, smidges. Don’t bother calling me. You’re unhappy? Wah! Wah! Wah!”
Leidecker testified during the trial that the “Bridges, smidges …” comment was “sort of a cartoonish way of depicting the representative as I saw him.” Leidecker says he was promoted to deputy executive director of NEARI in June.
The episode caused Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin to observe in a recent column:
“There can’t be a lot of organizations that reward someone charged with cyber-stalking an elected official by giving them a big promotion. But NEARI did. … On one level, you’d hope that a group like NEARI would be especially appalled at this behavior. After all, one of the biggest problems in schools today is cyber-bullying. It seems unthinkable that the union that represents teachers in Rhode Island would give a message of support to such bullying by promoting someone who has now been convicted of it.”