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After Appeal, Jail in NYC Dead Sea Scrolls Case

dssA man convicted of using digital-age tools to impersonate and malign his father’s academic rivals on the ancient subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls was sentenced Monday to two months in jail after the state’s highest court tossed out some of his convictions — and with them, a state aggravated-harassment law.

The sentencing of Raphael Golb, who also got three years’ probation, came after the Court of Appeals upheld convictions on other charges, including criminal impersonation and forgery. Golb had been sentenced earlier to six months’ jail but free on bail during his appeal.

Golb was given a surrender date of July 22, but could ask the courts to hold off the jail term while appealing the case further.

Golb told state Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward that he hadn’t thought he committed a crime with his online campaign to illuminate what he saw as important information about the scrolls, but he said he had realized it was “inappropriate.”

“I obviously should not have sent out deadpan emails in the names of other individuals,” he said, “and I obviously will never do it again.”

But a prosecutor said Golb “should get exactly what he deserves,” pushing for a year in jail. He engaged in “a malicious course of conduct over many months … to impersonate others and destroy their careers,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney John Bandler said.

From the start, the case was a rarity. Claims of Internet imitation seldom spur criminal trials at all, let alone trials that air an abstruse but vigorous scholarly dispute over the Scrolls’ origins. And with the high court’s May ruling, Golb’s case gained another distinction: striking down an often-used aggravated harassment law that police and prosecutors saw as an important tool for pursuing domestic violence and other cases, but Golb called an unconstitutional intrusion on free-speech rights.

The state Legislature has since passed a revised version of the law that they believe will pass muster with courts.

Golb, a literature scholar and lawyer, acknowledged disguising his identity in emails and blog posts to discredit detractors of his father’s views on the scrolls’ origins.

Containing the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible, the scrolls have enhanced scholars’ understanding of the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity since their discovery in caves in Israel, beginning in the 1940s. Some researchers believe the texts were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes; others — including Golb’s father, historian Norman Golb — say the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.

Raphael Golb used various online aliases to take on his father’s adversaries in the debate, at one point opening an email account in a prominent Judaic studies professor’s name and sending out messages in which that professor appeared to confess to plagiarizing Norman Golb’s work. The professor denied it.

Raphael Golb said the electronic barbs were satire, not crime. But the Manhattan district attorney’s office and jurors said the emails and posts amounted to a campaign of offenses including second-degree aggravated harassment. The misdemeanor charge involved communicating with someone “in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm” and with the intent to do so.

Golb’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby, argued that it turned criticism into a crime if the object of the complaint felt irritated, but not necessarily imperiled.

“You cannot arrest somebody for being annoying,” Kuby said in a recent interview. “Unwanted communication is not a threat — it is merely unwanted communication.”

The Court of Appeals agreed the law was “unconstitutionally vague and overbroad.”

In the aftermath, some prosecutors around the state dismissed pending charges and advised local police to stop making arrests under the second-degree aggravated harassment law. The law had often been used as a basis for issuing a court order barring domestic violence suspect from continued contact with their alleged victim; there were more about 7,600 pending second-degree aggravated harassment cases statewide as of last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

With Cuomo’s support, the state Legislature has since passed a revised version of the law that backers believe will pass muster with courts.


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