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Corbett withdraws Twitter subpoena

| Saturday, May 22, 2010

State Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett has withdrawn a subpoena seeking the identities of two bloggers on the Twitter social networking site. Corbett withdrew the subpoena after the sentencing of a figure convicted as part of the attorney general's Bonusgate investigation. "While we are pleased that the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office has withdrawn the subpoena," state American Civil Liberties Union legal director Witold Walczak said late Friday, "the ACLU maintains grave concerns about the attorney general's handling of this affair." The subpoena apparently was aimed at proving that either "bfbarbie" or "CasablancaPA" was in reality Brett Cott, a former aide to ex-House Democratic Whip Michael Veon of Beaver Falls. In Dauphin County Common Pleas Court Friday, Judge Richard Lewis sentenced Cott, 37, to 21-60 months in state prison for stealing taxpayer resources for use in political campaigns. Lewis also denied motions to overturn the convictions of Cott, Veon and another Veon aide, Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink. "We believe the judge reached the right conclusion, based on the facts and case law," Corbett office spokesman Kevin Harley said. The attorney general's office reportedly said a Bonusgate-related investigation led a grand jury to send a subpoena May 6 to the San Francisco-based Twitter. The subpoena demanded by May 14 the identities of "bfbarbie" and "CasablancaPA" who have been critical of Corbett. When asked by reporters Wednesday during a campaign appearance at Allegheny County Airport, Corbett declined comment because "it's a grand jury matter." Then, on Thursday, the state ACLU said it would challenge that subpoena. "Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Walczak said. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously," he said. CasablancaPA also is the name of a blog site, which tells visitors it has a simple mission, to expose "the hypocrisy of Tom Corbett." Corbett's activities also drew criticism from his Democratic opponent for governor. "This is another example of Tom Corbett politicizing the attorney general's office to benefit his campaign," Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said in a statement issued Friday, "the same Harrisburg-insider tactics that Pennsylvanians are tired of and that I will end as governor." "I think anyone would be stunned that (Onorato) would publicly come out against the taxpayers and on the side of a convicted felon," Corbett senior political adviser John Brabender said Friday. Brabender also said Onorato had been a major contributor to Veon. "When I get attacked whether on anonymous blogs, in campaign ads or in editorials I respond on the facts, which Corbett has not done in this case," Onorato said. "Moreover, while it is fine to note the motivations of a critic, it is not acceptable to attempt to bully them into silence." Onorato also used the matter to express his opinion that Corbett "pandered to the right wing by using our tax dollars in a lawsuit to stop national health care reform, under the pretense of protecting the Constitution." In West Mifflin, Corbett again defended his intervention in that lawsuit pressed by attorneys general from 14 states, mostly Republicans but also including one Democrat, from Louisiana. Corbett said it was unconstitutional for the federal government to require citizens to purchase health insurance. He also thought there might be consideration of that lawsuit by September. Tribune-Review Harrisburg correspondent Brad Bumstead contributed to this story.

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