Yolo Superior Court Judge Dan Maguire issued a subpoena on Thursday ordering the Internet petition website Change.org to produce the IP address used to create false signatures and comments on a petition in favor of the school district’s Gifted and Talented Education program last month.
Change.org will have about three weeks to produce the information, said attorney Will Portello.
Portello is representing Shelley Dunning, a parent at North Davis Elementary School, who discovered two weeks ago that someone had forged her signature on the pro-GATE petition and added a testimonial that was falsely attributed to her.
In addition to turning over the IP address for the person who created a Change.org account using Dunning’s email address, the subpoena requests the same information for four other individuals who also had signatures forged or comments falsely attributed to them on the petition.
They are among at least nine people who Portello has determined were impersonated on the website. All are parents at North Davis Elementary School, he said.
“It appears (their names and email addresses) were taken out of the North Davis Elementary School directory,” Portello said Thursday.
The GATE petition, created by the recently formed group Davis Excel, is addressed to the Davis school board and says, “We the undersigned are parents, teachers and citizens of Davis who strongly support the current DJUSD self-contained GATE program” and calls for “no significant changes to the (GATE) program without a demonstration that the current program is failing its students.”
The fraudulent signatures and comments were left on the petition on Feb. 2 and Feb. 10, Portello said.
Dunning, however, didn’t learn about the deception until nearly a month later when she received an email inviting her to a GATE-related meeting. A message at the bottom of the email indicated she was receiving the invitation because she had signed the GATE petition.
But Dunning said she had never visited the Change.org site, never signed the petition and never left the comment attributed to her.
She contacted Anupam Chander, a UC Davis law professor who had created the petition, and he removed her comment. By then, Chander had been contacted by several parents who had learned they were the victims of the forgery.
Last month, Chander and others requested the IP address of the person or persons who had forged the signatures and left the fraudulent comments, but Change.org refused to provide them absent a search warrant or subpoena.
And though the subpoena has now been issued, it remains unknown how much useful information ultimately will be produced. If the person who forged the signatures and left the comments used an anonymizing program to conceal his or her identity, that would leave Dunning and the others without much recourse.
If, however, the IP address is undisguised, Portello will seek another subpoena, this one to the Internet service provider who controls the address and can identify the account holder.
At that point, Dunning and the others would have in hand the name of the person responsible.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy