Joey Dauben, former publisher of the Ellis County Observer, fought back this week against law enforcement agencies’ efforts to seize the Internet domain name EllisCountyObserver.com in connection with his prosecution in Ellis County on charges of “fraudulent use or possession of identifying information.”
The website publisher said in a telephone interview that he distributed a press release by fax to The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Observer, D Magazine, the New York Times and several small local publications. The release included a copy of his answer to the petition in the case by the plaintiff, The State of Texas, which asks Judge Bob Carroll of the 40th Judicial District Court in Ellis County to order Dauben to forfeit the domain name.
Dauben asked the court to dismiss the action pursuant to the Texas Citizens Act because it “constitutes a retaliatory action initiated by the State of Texas in regards to communications made on this forum by the owner of the website and domain name.”
Law enforcement officials maintain that Dauben should forfeit the asset because he allegedly committed a felony in the summer of 2011 by publishing on the website copies of documents that revealed the name, address, phone number and work history of a Red Oak man whose ex-wife had accused him of molesting their child.
Dauben allegedly also threatened the man with violence on his website, according to an indictment returned by an Ellis County grand jury in January. Dauben said he wrote on his website that the man should “die” if he molested the child.
The man’s ex-wife, who provided Dauben with the documents, was later charged with filing a false police report, and Dauben issued a public apology to the man on his website. Dauben claimed in his press release that Ellis County officials are now “criminalizing a civil matter.”
Dauben also alleged in the press release that law enforcement officials who fear and resent his commitment to exposing corruption are attempting to permanently silence him and ensure that all of the websites and newspapers he published under the Freedom of the Press LLC banner are shut down as well.
“By criminalizing the publication of news articles or opinions, no matter how controversial, with indictments, imprisonments and now seizures of the media properties, especially a website that has demolished the political corruption in this county for several years, it validates everything I’ve been writing about and exposing,” Dauben said in the press release. “Freedom of the Press is under a full-fledged assault by the forces I have spent more than a decade exposing, but despite this latest attempt and other restrictions placed upon me by other powers and principalities, I will not cease my main role in exposing evil.”
Dauben, who is 31, initially was arrested at his home office on Cedar Creek Lake in late December 2011 on charges he engaged in sexual activity with a 15-year-old male teenager four years ago in 2007 during a church camping trip. That case was filed by the Navarro County District Attorney following a Texas Rangers investigation.
Dauben, who has proclaimed his innocence of the charges, was jailed for two months on a $200,000 bond. The publisher said although he asked for a court-appointed attorney after declaring he was indigent, he did not receive representation until a newspaper story revealed his plight.
The Ellis County indictment, which was issued in connection with a raid on his home office last summer that resulted in his computer equipment being seized, was returned against him while he was in jail.
The bond on the four-count sexual assault charge was lowered to $50,000 after Dauben obtained legal representation, and he was released on the condition that he not use the Internet, wear an ankle monitor, remain in the area of Ellis and Navarro Counties, report to probation officers in both counties weekly and not get within 200 yards of any children.
Dauben vowed that he would continue to fight all of the charges against him and resist the state’s efforts to seize his website’s domain name. He has asked for a jury trial.
Ellis County officials managed to get several other of his websites in Texas shut down, but a Florida judge barred them from closing down one in Tallahassee on First Amendment grounds, Dauben said.
“They’ve got a fight on their hands,” Dauben said. “I don’t give in or give up easily, no matter the odds.”
Prosecutors in Navarro County reportedly offered Dauben a 10-year prison sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. If convicted at trial, his punishment could amount to a life sentence in prison.
Dauben said in the news release he was also still committed to exposing corruption in government.
“If I’m left with a Crayon and construction paper, I’ll keep exposing the cesspool I’ve fought for years to drain,” Dauben said.
Dauben, whose media career has spanned 11 years, launched the Ellis County Observer in October 2005.
In 2009 Dauben was jailed for 12 days in lieu of a $1.5 million bond for publishing the mug shot of a Combine police officer in connection with one of his investigative news report. After his release from jail, Dauben sued and received a financial settlement from the City of Combine in 2011.
Ellis County Observer publisher fights forfeiture of domain name, vows to continue muckraking one day
April 16, 2012