U.S. Second Circuit - The FindLaw 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Fake Dead Sea Scrolls Writer Bound for Jail

It was enough to shake a lawyer's faith in God, if not the legal system.

Raphael Golb, a disbarred attorney, committed the heresy of challenging the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He also faked emails to discredit scholars who said the Essenes, a Jewish sect, wrote the ancient scripture.

His evil plot failed, however, and hell soon followed. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed 10 counts against him for false impersonation in Golb v. Attorney General of the State of New York.

Mercy of the Court

It could have been worse. The appeals court reversed half a dozen convictions because the applicable statutes were too broad.

New York Penal Section 170.05 makes it a crime to "falsely make, complete or alter a written instrument" when done "with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another." The court said that does not mean the "false" use of a pseudonym.

"Such a boundless interpretation renders the statute so overbroad that any fair-minded jurist would find it unconstitutional," the court said. "Pseudonymous product reviews would be criminalized, as would the use of false names by corporate or governmental whistleblowers to avoid detection and retaliation."

The ruling cut Golb's convictions down to 10; he had been convicted on 30 counts. It was a minor victory for Golb and his father, a bona fide scholar who also questioned the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Not That Funny

Golb had argued that his emails were a joke -- a form of protected speech. The court disagreed.

"An author who intends to fool everyone may be pulling a prank or perpetrating a hoax, but the result is not a parody," the court said.

In the fake emails, Golb pretended to be scholars who confessed to plagiarizing his father's work. He faces two months in jail.

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