Divorce blog's rancor erupts in free-speech dispute

Posted: July 31, 2011

He launched the website in 2007, Anthony Morelli says, as a space for him to vent.

And its URL left no doubt about the subject:

ThePsychoExWife.com - a place of no names, only acronyms, but plenty of wicked description.

"Imagine, if you will, Jabba the Hut, with less personality," he blogged about his ex. "She spends her time . . . drinking her days away bemoaning her victim status, when she isn't stuffing the children with fast food, buying them toys, or pushing them towards the TV or computer."

Flush with biting vignettes and e-mails from the Doylestown resident's epic custody fights with PEW - his shorthand for Psycho Ex-Wife - the site became an online hit among other disaffected inhabitants of Splitsville.

Divorced men, and often their new consorts, chimed in with domestic horror stories of their own.

Then PEW found out. And Allison Morelli wasn't happy.

The 42-year-old Hatboro woman, calling the site "heartbreaking" and potentially harmful to their cyber-savvy sons, ages 12 and 9, wants it permanently shuttered.

Now Anthony Morelli, 43, finds himself at odds with yet another woman - this one wearing a black robe - and girded for an appellate showdown over his First Amendment rights.

At a June 6 custody hearing, Bucks County Court Judge Diane Gibbons ordered him to "take down that website" and never again refer to his ex-wife "on any public media" or mention his children online "other than 'happy birthday' or other significant school events."

She might as well have ordered world peace.

Over the next two days, two new postings appeared on the site.

The first ripped Gibbons' order as "completely illogical," but agreed to comply.

The second, however, featured a lengthy narrative of the Morellis' last 14 months of drama. Though their nine-year marriage ended in divorce six years ago, fisticuffs over custody of their children - currently shared - has continued unabated.

The post called Allison Morelli "a f- psycho" and a "black-out drunk," and asked "what kind of f- judge gives the kids back to her?" It also pledged to keep the site, saying, "The judge has no say over what I write here."

Anthony Morelli attributes the postings to his girlfriend, an Internet marketer who, he said, owns the site.

No matter. On June 14, a miffed Gibbons hauled the Morellis back into court.

Supplied with printouts of the posts, the judge denounced the site as "inaccurate" and "denigrating." She threatened Anthony Morelli with contempt, saying his sons knew about the site and would be harmed if they read such depictions of their mother.

"It is not just venting that I have read in these pages," Gibbons said. "It amounts to outright cruelty."

ThePsychoExWife.com was shut down. But Anthony Morelli was just warming up.

By early July he had hired another lawyer to appeal the order to Superior Court.

Anyone now clicking on his old URL is directed to a new site. It's called SaveThePsychoExWife.com, and it seeks donations for his legal fees. Last week, the kitty was up to $4,000, Morelli said.

He can use the extra change, having been laid off last year from his job as a manufacturing quality and safety manager. "I've shifted my focus to writing," he said.

Allison Morelli said she had her alcohol abuse under control, if not her finances. She already had paid lawyers $75,000 - burning through her retirement savings and the equity in her home - by the time she lost her job in March as a health-care educational recruiter.

With her house in foreclosure, she said she was lawyerless and planned to remain so.

Anthony Morelli's appellate lawyer, Kevin Handy, said Gibbons had violated Morelli's free-speech rights by ordering the website closed.

Handy said the judge also had violated Morelli's 14th Amendment right to due process by ruling without any evidence that the website had harmed the children.

"Basically, it went from a petition to Judge Gibbons ordering the website taken down," he said. "That was very unusual."

Even if it could be shown that the site had harmed the children, Handy said, measures to keep them from viewing it should be ordered, rather than its elimination.

"I'm not saying that what [Morelli] says on there is a good idea," Handy added.

A number of First Amendment legal experts appear to agree. However offensive Morelli's site may be, they said, it's protected speech unless it is obscene or defamatory or threatens national security.

"I think the judge did overstep her bounds a little bit in ordering the website taken down," said Robert D. Richards, founding director of the Pennsylvania Center for the First Amendment at Pennsylvania State University.

"Overall, they are safe in putting up a blog that happens to be nasty," Richards said. "We have a principle in the law that you can't censor speech just because most people find it offensive."

Even if it is defamatory, he said, the remedy is to sue for libel, not to block the speech.

Meg Groff, a Doylestown lawyer long involved in domestic-abuse cases, hailed Gibbons' ruling. Groff called it "extremely damaging to children to have access to that kind of denigration of a parent. Usually in custody orders it is not permitted."

Whether Morelli's constitutional rights were violated, she added, "there is no doubt that his right to be an unmitigated ass has been infringed upon."

Morelli agreed that his writings might offend but he defended their accuracy.

"People might not like the humor. They might think it's mean-spirited," he said. "What my detractors are missing is the fact that nearly every story having to do with my personal situation starts with a vulgar, abusive, harassing contact from Allison."

The larger issue, he said, "is that judges in Family Court act with . . . zero regard for the Constitution." Gibbons, he said, "has given two sermons and made orders without hearing any testimony, reviewing any evidence, or speaking to the two children."

Allison Morelli said she just wanted the litigation to end.

Her sons are honor students with "tons of friends," she said, and she has tamed her drinking problem through counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous.

"I just wish people didn't have this perception of me," she said. "I've done my own damage, but I've owned it, and I'm trying to be a better person for my kids."

She is ready to move on.

"What the judge said in court made perfect sense to me," she said. "Stop doing what you're doing, and do the right thing for your children.

"There is nothing more to be said. There really isn't."


Contact staff writer Larry King

at 215-345-0446, lking@phillynews.com, or @KingInq on Twitter.

 

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