Sarcasm Greets NJ Town Effort to Shut Down Resident's Website

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    NEWSLETTERS

    westorange.info
    The town of West Orange, N.J. sent a cease-and-desist letter to the resident who owns this website. But his attorney calls it a joke.

    Rare is the legal rebuttal that calls a cease-and-desist order a "literary gag gift." Rarer still is when it contains the phrase "big meanie."

    And then there's the legal document that landed Monday on the desk of the West Orange township lawyer, delivering that sarcasm and more.

    It was a response to an order sent to township resident Jake Freivald, who created the website westorange.info in May to provide information about the town and host an online forum.

    West Orange told him the continued use of its name for the private website would likely cause confusion and might even violate the township's "federal protected rights," and it wanted the site shut down.

    "My first thought was, 'Are they serious?' Freivald, a vice president of marketing who is involved in local politics, said in an interview.

    Stephen B. Kaplitt, a lawyer who used to work for the federal government and knew Freivald, offered to take the case for free.

    "Obviously it (the letter) was sent in jest," his response read.

    On a serious note, Kaplitt countered that a private company may have had cause but not a government agency. He said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers rulings uphold that geographic domain names are not protected. And then there's the U.S. Constitution.

    "I can't believe I really have to explain this, but here goes," Kaplitt wrote to the township attorney, Richard Trenk. "After nearly a century of First Amendment jurisprudence, it is well-settled that content-based restrictions on free speech by the government are subject to 'strict scrutiny.'"

    In his response, Kaplitt also said that he had assured his client that the letter was not a "ham-fisted attempt to bully a local resident because of his well-known political views."

    "After all, as lawyers you and I both know that would be flagrantly unconstitutional and would also, in the words of my 4-year-old, make you a big meanie," he wrote.

    Then there is the website itself, which Kaplitt described as "so minimalist that it qualifies as modern art." It includes a map of New Jersey with a red pin marking the location of West Orange with links to various websites.

    "He puts up this ridiculous website he should've been embarrassed by," Kaplitt said in an interview. "And they sent him this letter that he's a fundamental threat to the security of West Orange."

    In his letter, he told the township he'd donate to the American Civil Liberties Union if "you manage to produce supporting authority that even remotely passes the laugh test."

    Trenk did not return a call and email asking for comment. Kaplitt said he had not received a response to the letter.

    The legal skirmish has had one effect: Westorange.info, where the letters are posted, has gotten nearly a million hits.

    Freivald said he hopes all the attention will make other towns reluctant to take similar action.

    "West Orange will be the butt of jokes," Freivald said, "but in New Jersey we're used to that and people will be wiser the next time around."