PITTSFIELD -- A Central Berkshire District Court judge on Wednesday granted Meredith Nilan a harassment prevention order against local blogger Dan Valenti, and ordered him to remove any references to her from his website, Planet Valenti.
Nilan, 24, had faced criminal charges related to a car accident in December that seriously injured a Pittsfield man, and has been referenced in 44 postings on Valenti's website that are associated with that incident.
In granting the harassment prevention order, Judge Bethzaida Sanabria-Vega ordered Valenti to remove "any and all references" of Nilan from "any and all websites, blogs, etc. ..." The order also requires Valenti to stay 100 yards away from Nilan, stay away from both her place of employment and home, and refrain from any contact or abuse.
"[I]t would appear this is a violation of my first amendment rights that guarantee freedom of the press," Valenti said in an email message on Wednesday. He called freedom of the press "the best safeguard to our free institutions" and said when it "comes under fire, the entire community loses. That is the more serious question here."
In a statement to The Eagle, Nilan said, "As many who have been blogged about by Dan Valenti know, much of what he writes is false, and even what is true is only partially true and then distorted by innuendo. I flat out deny just about every so-called ‘fact' he has published in my case, and that includes those by his guest columnists and anonymous posters."
Sanabria-Vega issued the harassment prevention order without notifying Valenti in advance because she "determined that there is a substantial likelihood of immediate danger of harassment," according to court documents.
She said the order would be sent to Valenti by mail.
Valenti said he hadn't yet received any paperwork regarding the matter and would wait until he does to determine how to respond.
The order is in effect until Monday, July 9 when a hearing will take place in District Court to determine if it should be extended. Valenti, who was not in court on Wednesday, is entitled to attend that hearing.
Under state law, a judge must find three or more "acts of willful and malicious conduct with the intent to cause fear, intimidation, abuse or property damage" in order to grant an harassment prevention order.
The maximum penalty for violating an harassment prevention order is 2 1/2 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
Valenti has operated his own website since 2010. He also runs his own publishing company, Planet Media Books, and hosted a morning radio talk show on WBRK-AM (1340) in Pittsfield for several years until 2006.
"Planet Valenti is a website of news and commentary," Valenti stated in his email. "We have reported news on the Nilan-Moore case as we would any other story, approaching it with neutrality and objectivity and letting the information, facts, and determinations determine our direction."
Valenti said he has never had any contact with Meredith Nilan and "to my knowledge, have never been nearer than miles to her. In light of this, I can't fathom why she would want protection."
On her application for the harassment prevention order, Nilan stated that Valenti had been writing "lies and innuendo" about her.
"Mr. Valenti's continued vitriol and his repeated inclination to print lies and sensationalize every aspect of my case has made me fear for my personal safety," she wrote.
On Wednesday, Nilan gave The Eagle a written statement concerning Valenti and her car accident. She said that ever since the December accident she has read "terrible, terrible things" written about her and her family, seen "lies printed in the media and online" and has been threatened "with acts of violence including murder, rape, and other atrocities on Valenti's and other websites."
Nilan was charged with misdemeanor negligent operation of a motor vehicle and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident after the car she was driving struck 46-year-old Peter Moore of Pittsfield on Dec. 8. Moore suffered a broken neck and other injuries.
On June 6, the misdemeanor charge against Nilan was continued without a finding for six months in District Court. The leaving the scene charge has been dismissed.
According to Nilan, much of what has been written about the case in Valenti's blog and The Eagle "was false."
In her statement, Nilan said that on the night of the accident she never saw what her car struck and remained at the scene for 45 minutes looking for the source of the blood in the roadway. The police, she said, got the wrong address and didn't show up to interview her that night. She believes if they had shown up, they "never would have charged me."
"I admitted in a court of law that I drove negligently that night. No matter how many times I play it over, I see only a dark shape hitting my windshield. I have felt and will always feel terrible about it, but it was an accident," said Nilan.
Meanwhile, Trevor J. Moore, 32, of Las Vegas, who police say threatened Nilan's life, has had his arraignment on those charges in District Court rescheduled so that he can travel here from Nevada. Although he lives in Las Vegas, Moore has ties to the Berkshires. He is not related to accident victim Peter Moore.
It is alleged that Trevor Moore made several phone calls to Nilan's residence in February and March in which he told the family that he was going to, "make sure that she's taken care of if the justice system doesn't come through this time," along with other related threats.
Moore is now scheduled to be arraigned on single counts of threat to commit murder and making harassing phone calls on Aug. 22 in Central Berkshire District Court.