NEW YORK (AP) — A 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 widely used harassment law.
Raphael Golb, a literature scholar and now-disbarred lawyer, was re-sentenced on misdemeanor criminal impersonation and forgery charges that the Court of Appeals upheld, even as it nixed his felony identity-theft conviction and declared an aggravated harassment law unconstitutional.
Golb had been sentenced in 2010 to six months in jail but was free on bail during his appeal. He remains free at least until July 22, as a judge postponed his surrender date so he can ask courts to hold off his jail term while he appeals the case further.
The 54-year-old Golb was convicted of adopting aliases in derogatory emails and blog posts — including sending emails that seemed like confessions of plagiarism by one of his father’s key adversaries in a scholarly debate over the scrolls’ origin.
Golb told state Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward on Monday that he realized his online campaign was “inappropriate,” but he had seen it as satire, not crime.
“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.”
From the start, the case was a rarity. Claims of Internet impersonations seldom spur criminal trials, let alone trials that air an abstruse but vigorous scholarly dispute over ancient texts.
And with the high court’s May ruling, Golb’s case gained another distinction by striking down an aggravated harassment law that authorities saw as an important tool for pursuing domestic violence and other cases, but Golb called an intrusion on free-speech rights.
The state Legislature has since passed a revised version of the law that backers believe will pass muster with the courts.
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, University of Chicago historian Norman Golb — say the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.
Raphael Golb said his electronic barbs were intended to illuminate what he saw as important information about the debate.
But Manhattan Assistant District Attorney John Bandler called Golb’s behavior a protracted, malicious effort “to impersonate others and destroy their careers.”
Golb’s lawyer, Ronald Kuby, argued that the aggravated harassment law turned criticism into a crime if the object of the complaint just felt irritated, but not endangered.
“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 law had often been used as a basis for issuing a court order barring domestic violence suspects from continued contact with their alleged victim; more than 7,600 cases of second-degree aggravated harassment were pending statewide as of last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. He supported the Legislature’s rewrite.
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.