Lott v. Levitt, Part X

by Ted Frank on April 25, 2008

As we discussed in Part IX, one of John Lott’s two claims was settled, when Steven Levitt apologized for e-mails he sent another economist. It’s questionable how much satisfaction Lott can get from this, since, as an economist, he surely realizes that, without a loser-pays rule or agreement, there is a pooling equilibrium whereby both the sincerely-apologizing Levitt and the insincerely-apologizing Levitt would take the same course of action to avoid spending tens of thousands of dollars defending a de minimis allegation of libel, regardless of the merits of the claim.

The more significant, if less meritorious, claim of libel in Freakonomics is on appeal; Lott is now claiming that the case should have been decided under the allegedly more friendly Virginia libel law than the Illinois law under which his claim fails, but that is generally an argument for (at best) a claim of legal malpractice, rather than for a do-over for an expressly waived argument in federal court. Lott has posted the briefs; David Glenn blogs about the 2-year mark in the case. Not that I think Lott has a valid legal malpractice claim, either, unless his attorneys told him he had a good shot at winning more than he would spend in legal fees.

Lott does interesting economic research, and it is unfortunate he is tarring his reputation with a lawsuit that has the potential to impinge upon academic freedom.

{ 6 comments }

1 Anonymous Attorney 04.25.08 at 3:01 pm

This whole business is so unseemly.

2 Mark Francis 04.25.08 at 7:24 pm

“Lott does interesting economic research”

I supposed this is true. It is interesting in that he is often obviously wrong, and yet still gets work.

3 Anonymous 04.25.08 at 9:46 pm

Do you know if Levitt or HarperCollins is paying for Levitt’s legal costs? Does your argument depend on that answer? Even if Levitt is not very wealthy, HarperCollins surely would fight to the end so as not to encourage more of these lawsuits. The link that you have to the briefs show that both HarperCollins and Levitt are listed as defendants. Do you think that Levitt signed what you call “a remarkable letter of apology” in your post at Part IX was simply done to avoid legal costs? The link that you have to the apology letter has a lot of people who think that Levitt did something quite wrong here with the emails that he sent around. The apology letter discusses claims of bribery, claims of preventing papers from being published because they had alternative views, and claims of that research was not refereed all being wrong. I assume that this is what you meant by “a remarkable letter of apology.”

If Lott is just as correct about this other part of the case involved in the appeal, then why shouldn’t Levitt apologize? Why shouldn’t Levitt admit that his claims are wrong? If HarperCollins is paying for Levitt’s legal costs, then shouldn’t you be upset with Levitt and not Lott? Of course, if Levitt is having to pay his costs and Lott has more money than Levitt, then you are right and Lott’s wins could tell us nothing. Could you just fill in some of this information for readers?

4 Ted 04.25.08 at 10:31 pm

The one time I looked at a book contract for an author with a major publishing house, it required the author to indemnify the publisher for legal claims. I don’t know if Levitt has a different arrangement, but I also see no reason that the publisher would agree to pay for Levitt’s legal expenses once they were out of the case and the only remaining claim is for libel in Levitt’s e-mail.

I have no idea what Lott’s arrangements are for attorney’s fees. It’s hard to imagine Seyfarth Shaw agreeing to represent Lott in a case this weak without an up-front retainer.

The ten posts I’ve written on the topic speak for themselves, and I don’t have any interest in discussing it further.

5 rbnn 04.26.08 at 3:54 pm

The use of the term “unfortunate” is an interesting rhetorical device, in the sentence “it is unfortunate he is tarring his reputation with a lawsuit”, which just happens to be posted on a widely read blog.

I suppose I would call it preterition, or perhaps apophasis.

6 SteVe 04.27.08 at 10:20 pm

Mark,

What is it that Lott is “often obviously wrong” about? While I suspect the man has some personality flaws that make him overly sensitive to criticism (based on this lawsuit & his sockpuppet incident), I believe his work garners some merit & a lot of criticism from those opposed to his findings based on their points of view.

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