Conviction in sock puppet case for son of Dead Sea Scrolls scholar
First published on the Chicago Jewish Star
Raphael Golb, the disgraced Manhattan lawyer and son of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Norman Golb may finally begin his two-month prison term for sock puppetry.
A “sock puppet” refers to a false “online identity used for purposes of deception” with the intent of manipulating opinion “to praise, defend or support a person or organization”, according to Wikipedia *which itself has its own sock puppetry policy).
A decade ago, Raphael Golb, 58, posted messages on the Internet in which he impersonated academic critics of his father accusing them of plagiarism and other misdeeds. (Jewish Star, March 29, 2022).
The extensive, indeed sordid, litigation over identity theft may have finally concluded on February 20 when the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear Golb Jr.’s case.
The story involved the issue of the difference between satire and defamation.
In an act misplaced filial loyalty, beginning in 2008 Golb Jr. created fake email accounts in which he maligned numerous Dead Sea Scroll scholars including Harvard University’s Frank Moore Cross, Jr. and New York University’s Lawrence Schiffman.
In the latter’s name he opened an online account and sent out emails – purportedly from Schiffman – in which he admitted to plagiarizing Prof. Golb’s work.
Over decades these scholars had argued with his father about the origin and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in caves near Qumran just west of the Dead Sea.
The prevalent theory, supported by Cross. Jr., Schiffman and most scholars, is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947, originated with a Jewish sect living at Qumran, generally believed to be the Essenes.
Norman Golb’s alternative theory was that the scrolls were brought to the caves by the Dead Sea from various libraries in Jerusalem in an effort to rescue them from the impending Roman attack on the city, which culminated in 70 C.E. with the destruction of Herod the Great’s Temple.
Prof. Golb argued that the ruins at Qumran were part of a farm rather than a sectarian community. His 1996 Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls?: The Search For The Secret Of Qumran is widely dismissed among his peers.
The digital trail was traced back to Raphael Golb, who was convicted of 30 counts of identity theft, forgery, and aggravated harassment. Sentenced to six months in prison and five years of probation, he appealed.
The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court heard his case in 2013 and upheld 29 of his 30 charges. In a further petition the following year, Golb’s case went to the New York Court of Appeals. That court dropped 10 more of the charges, but reaffirmed the remainder and resentenced him to two months in prison and three years of probation.
In 2015, Golb filed a writ of habeas corpus in the district court, which resulted in two more charges being dropped.
Having been unsuccessful in overturning all of the convictions against him, he appealed again – this time to the U.S. Supreme Court.
With the Supreme Court declining to hear Golb’s case, his eight-year appeal process appears to have come to ground to a halt.
UCLA Professor Eugene Volokh, in the Volokh Conspiracy blog, maintained that Golb’s conviction was “quite right, even afterUnited States v. Alvarez (the Stolen Valor Act case).”
Volokh insisted: “Intentionally trying to make others believe that someone did something (write an e-mail) that he did not inflicts specific harm on that other person, whether by harming his reputation or at least by making others think that he believes something that he doesn’t (which will often be civilly actionable under the false light tort). To be sure, that usually leads to civil liability, but nothing in the Court's decision suggests that criminal liability in such cases is impermissible, especially when the law is limited to relatively clearly identifiable falsehoods, such as falsely claiming to be someone you are not.”
Citing the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652E, Volokh concluded that “it seems to me that such impersonation is therefore indeed unprotected—as I said, against criminal punishment as well as civil liability.”