A recent post on Blog-Lebo opened a conversation about a walking path in my neighborhood. From the post and the comments, the location of the path became clear, along with the identities of the neighbors whose landscaping project threatened to cut off access to it.
A lively comment thread ensued. Among the facts that emerged on that thread were that the deed to the property in question does not refer to that walking path, but that prior deeds to that same parcel do refer to some sort of easement or interest. (I've seen the deeds myself; you could, too, if you searched the Allegheny County Recorder's website.) I do not know why the more recent deed omits reference to an earlier recorded interest. There are a variety of possible explanations, some of which involve perfectly legitimate transactions. The discrepancy is immediately obvious, however, to anyone who saw the earlier deeds.
The owners of the property apparently did not like the attention. This afternoon, the three co-authors of the blog (for I had enlisted two others to post with me) received a strongly worded letter from their lawyer, Arthur H. Stroyd of Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd, a little Downtown law firm, threatening us with unspecified legal action if we don't take down the post. Mr. Stroyd is the father of one of the property owners, and the family as a whole is, in my understanding, a long-standing, highly regarded, and influential Mt. Lebanon family. The entirety of the letter is marked "NOT FOR PUBLICATION," so I won't post the whole thing here, even though that legend is pretty dubious, in my opinion, both as a matter of law and as a matter of legal ethics. But here is a key passage, which I reproduce as it obviously bears on a question of public interest: Will Blog-Lebo continue, or will we shut it down?The blog entry . . . and the comments posted in response thereto are predicated upon, and littered with, self-interested untruths, lies, and falsities that are too numerous to list in this letter. As a result, this letter is limited in scope to dealing with the obviously libelous information that directly impacts [the property owner's] professional reputation.
The entry on the path has been removed. Along with the post, the comments have disappeared as well. I wish the property owners well on their search for peace in their backyard, and in Mt. Lebanon.
The letter asks for some things that will not be provided. It asks for an acknowledgement that the post has been removed because it contained an abundance of false information about the parcel and the people who live there. The post did not contain an abundance of false information about anyone or anyplace; it contained a lively and civil conversation among neighbors about a matter of neighborhood -- and therefore public -- interest. If anyone has a claim to be offended by attacks on their personal or professional reputation, it's me: Some of the commenters all but accused me of being a Communist! And the letter demands that there be no further blog-based discussion of the property. That's a tough one; if the mainstream media pick up the story -- as it did not long ago in connection with a different walking path in Mt. Lebanon, near Foster School -- then our blog practice ordinarily would be to post a link to that news story.
It should be clear that I regard the letter that we received as legally and factually baseless. It is a transparent and cynical attempt to discourage legitimate public discussion of a topic of legitimate public interest. Acceding to these sorts of things is an example of the "chilling effects" that First Amendment lawyers worry so much about, and that anyone who cares about meaningful discussion of the future of our community also should worry about. And yet, for all of that, I have no time or energy to deal further with the mess. Removing the post acknowledges only that this is the fastest and cheapest way to respond to the demand.
Finally, I meant what I said above about whether Blog-Lebo should survive or disappear. We three authors chatted occasionally about the fact that various officials in Mt. Lebanon apparently regard the blog as a purveyor of rumor and innuendo -- or at least of information that runs contrary to the official line of the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon, usually as expressed in the official town magazine. I can handle the occasional irritated public official. When one neighbor threatens to sue another neighbor over public discussion of neighborhood matters, a line has been crossed. I'm not leaving Mt. Lebanon. But I may relocate to a different part of cyberspace, where more is at stake, and the skin is thicker.
The existing Blog-Lebo will remain in place, sans the post that triggered this episode. But there will be no further posts there. Pittsblog, please welcome Mt. Lebanon back to this space.