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NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer Continues Fight Over Emails Related To Parkland School Shooting

Marion Hammer poses.
Jeffrey Camp
Marion Hammer is a longtime lobbyist in Tallahassee and a former national president of the NRA.

Prominent National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer is continuing a legal battle against a California attorney who sent graphic emails to her after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Hammer’s attorneys this week asked the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take up her case alleging that attorney Lawrence Sorensen violated state laws about issues such as cyberstalking, harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The request came after a panel of the Atlanta-based appeals court last month upheld a district judge’s decision to dismiss the case.

The case stems from two emails that Sorensen sent to Hammer that included photos of gunshot wounds, including fatal wounds suffered by President John F. Kennedy. The emails came as gun-control advocates targeted Hammer following the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 students and faculty members.

In a motion filed Tuesday seeking a hearing by the full appeals court, known as seeking an en banc hearing, Hammer’s attorneys argued that the three-judge panel’s decision last month “sets dangerous precedent and conflicts with binding Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit decisions recognizing the right of private citizens to obtain injunctive relief to prevent harassment and the infringement of their rights, including the right to be ‘let alone’ and to be free from personal abuse.”

The Aug. 11 panel decision said Hammer’s lawsuit did not allege “enough facts” to show that laws were violated. As an example, the court said proving cyberstalking requires showing that the disputed communications served “no legitimate purpose.”

The court said Sorensen’s emails, which were “clearly intended to dissuade Hammer from continuing to support the availability of assault rifles,” had a legitimate purpose.

“No doubt the embedded photographs substantially turned up the volume on Sorensen’s message, but they did not negate his communications’ ‘legitimate purpose,’ as Florida law broadly construes that term, of trying to persuade Hammer that she should not continue to support the availability of assault rifles,” the panel ruling said. “Because Hammer cannot show that Sorensen’s emails served ‘no legitimate purpose,’ she cannot prevail on her cyberstalking claim. This is true even if Hammer was startled, distressed, or disturbed by the receipt of Sorensen’s emails.”

But in the motion this week, Hammer’s attorneys argued that such logic could have far-reaching implications.

“Because email is directed to a specific recipient, the panel’s decision could be applied to justify sending a potentially endless list of horrific content to specifically targeted recipients who would have no redress (for instance, images of gruesome lynching or cross burnings to black social justice activists, images of dead and mutilated bodies from the Holocaust to Jewish Americans, images of aborted fetuses to pro-choice activists, and so forth),” Hammer’s attorneys wrote. “Under the panel’s rationale, as long as the actor states they were furthering debate, or sending the content for ‘instructive’ purposes, the conduct cannot be prevented or redressed. Consequently, the meaning of ‘civilized society’ in an internet age which allows immediate delivery of outrageous graphic content to a targeted captive audience rests in the balance of this case and warrants the full court’s consideration.”

Hammer, a former national president of the NRA and a longtime influential lobbyist in Tallahassee, went to the appeals court after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in November 2018 dismissed her claims against Sorensen. Hinkle’s ruling came after Hammer filed a lawsuit against Sorensen and three other unrelated men because of emails she received. Hinkle’s dismissal was limited to Sorensen.

In his ruling, Hinkle acknowledged that Sorensen sending the emails “unsolicited to anyone, even a public figure who advocates gun rights, was inappropriate, indeed disgusting.” But the judge said Sorensen’s messages were protected by the First Amendment and that Hammer was not entitled to damages.