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libel slander and defamation

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 2, 2013

  • Paleo-diet blogger wins a round in battle with North Carolina occupational licensing [IJ via Alkon, earlier here, here, etc.]
  • If you live in Connecticut or Montana, you have a U.S. Senator who’d go this far to trample rights [Volokh on Tester-Murphy constitutional amendment, earlier] Related: “In Attack On Commercial Speech, Law Professor Sadly Supports Selective Rights” [Richard Samp, WLF, on Columbia's Tim Wu]
  • Lawyers sue publishers of medical literature for failing to warn about drug side effects [ABA Journal, Drug and Device Law]
  • “Anti-Bullying Bill Could Jail People Who Criticize Politicians” [Ted Balaker, Reason]
  • Regarding the L.A. Times: “So people are really suggesting a city council interfere to make sure a newspaper’s owners have the proper political views. Flabbergasting.” [@radleybalko]
  • “Judge: Rocker must pay Herald $132G in court costs for dismissed defamation suit” [Boston Herald] Second Circuit recognizes scientific-discussion defense to defamation claims [Science World Report]
  • “Does Freedom of Speech Conflict with Freedom of Religion?” [Jacob Mchangama video] “Turkish Blogger Sentenced to 13 Months in Prison for Criticizing Mohammed” [Volokh] So much repression: State Dept. International Religious Freedom Report for 2012 [executive summary]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on May 21, 2013

A lawyer who’d been widely and scathingly criticized over his handling of a case — unfairly he thought — proceeded to sue bloggers and journalists for defamation, so many that the total of defendants reached 74. It’s over now, but a New York state judge declined to award sanctions, which may possibly say something about the difficulty of obtaining sanctions under today’s prevailing legal standards, especially in New York. [Tom Crane, San Antonio Employment Law Blog; Popehat ("Our legal system is so broken that it can take years to resolve even the most patently vexatious, harassing, and incompetently prosecuted lawsuits like this one.")]

P.S. “Loser pays would have been valuable here. Costs to each defendant would teach a memorable lesson.” [@erikmagraken]

Quoting Ken White at Popehat:

The blog Retraction Watch tracks, and probes, retractions in scientific journals. They say they do so because retractions are a “window into the scientific process,” because doing so helps create a repository of retractions and publicize them, because retractions can be the lead-in for a great story about misconduct, and because tracking retractions can help keep scientific journals honest.

Unsurprisingly, this does not make them popular among some of the scientists they cover. Last month a researcher at a well-known Texas cancer center menaced the site with a lawsuit, soon unleashing the Streisand Effect. And now, in a separate case, a pharmaceutical chemist is threatening to sue them because they reported on one journal’s “Expression of Concern” about one of his pieces, and in the terminology of scientific journals, an “Expression of Concern” is a different thing than a “Retraction,” which, he says, means that the website’s title is exposing him to defamation. Per Ken, this is not exactly the world’s most meritorious theory either.

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Patrick at Popehat takes on the case of a beaded-necklace purveyor whose idea of how to respond to a dissatisfied customer leaves something to be desired (“We will send a copy of your e-mail and all your data to our lawyers. If You keep on with your defamations and write anything on blogs, forums or social networks, We will immediately start a lawsuit against You.”)

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on March 11, 2013

  • “Crime to Create a ‘Hostile Environment’ That ‘Substantially Interferes’ with Person’s ‘Psychological Well-Being’ Based on Race, Religion, Sex, Etc.?” [Volokh] “Minnesota Bill to Ban K-12 Speech That Denies Fellow Students a ‘Supportive Environment’” [same]
  • Blogger dropped as defendant in “pink slime” defamation litigation, but suit against ABC and others continues [Bettina Siegel/Lunch Tray] Suit against ABC based in part on state food-disparagement statute occasionally criticized in this space [Reuters] Dearborn residents: are you sure you want to patronize a restaurant that deploys lawyers to suppress criticism? [Paul Alan Levy, earlier]
  • Libya arrests foreigners accused of distributing Christian literature, charge could carry death penalty [Guardian]
  • Sometimes it seems NYT editors are First Amendment absolutists about everything except political speech First Amendment was meant to protect [SmarterTimes]
  • Global Wildlife Center of Folsom, Louisiana sues a satirical website and then menaces Ken of Popehat;
  • Long piece on Naffe/O’Keefe backstory of Kimberlin/Patterico legal/media war [Chris Faraone, Boston Phoenix, earlier]
  • Update: following outcry, publishing company drops suit against Canadian librarian [CBC, earlier] Also from Canada: Nanaimo, British Columbia: “Mayor ensures ‘Koruption’ stickers never seen again” [Beschizza, BoingBoing] Voltaire wept: Bruce Bawer on the Canada Supreme Court’s “hate speech” decision [Front Page mag, earlier]
  • “Donald Trump, paper tiger?” [Paul Alan Levy]

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Lawyers roundup

by Walter Olson on March 4, 2013

  • Feds investigating prominent Texas attorney and many-time Overlawyered mentionee Mikal Watts [MySanAntonio via PoL]
  • Florida high court: lawyers not privileged to defame parties during informal witness questioning [Delmonico v. Traynor]
  • Client’s story: not only did attorney try to kill me, he also gave me bad advice [Lowering the Bar]
  • Some lawyers for city of Cleveland seek union representation, following municipal attorneys in S.F., D.C. and Houston [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
  • Watch what you say about lawyers, part CLXXVI [NYLJ, "shakedown"]
  • Former ATLA president Barry Nace fights disciplinary proceeding in W.V. [Chamber-backed WV Record]
  • Minnesota lawyer who billed client for time he spent having sex with her won’t be allowed to practice for more than a year [TheLawNet, earlier on this candidate for "ultimate Overlawyered story"]
  • Should she take the job offer from an apparently unethical attorney? If she has to ask… [Elie Mystal, Above the Law]

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The casino magnate and political donor has now sued Wall Street Journal reporter Kate O’Keefe for libel over a December article. [TPM] Earlier on Adelson’s journalist-suing ways here and here.

In a default judgment, a federal judge in Florida has ruled that Haitian-American journalist Leo Joseph defamed the prime minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe, as well as a South Florida businessman, in Joseph’s reporting in Haiti-Observateur about the sale of a state telecommunications company. “‘Leo Joseph is hereby permanently restrained from publishing future communications to any third-parties concerning or regarding’ Lamothe and [Patrice] Baker ‘in either their professional, personal or political lives,” said the order from federal district judge Ursula Ungaro.” [AP/Gainesville Sun; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on February 19, 2013

  • Setting up as a freelance investigative writer? Getting insurance even for your office rental can be tricky [Romenesko]
  • Among many curious Virginia blue laws: “‘any citizen … may institute’ judicial review of any book.” [Barton Hinkle]
  • Whether Rupert Murdoch can buy the L.A. Times shouldn’t depend on which party holds power in Washington [Stoll, Future of Capitalism]
  • “Publisher launches $3,000,000 suit against academic librarian who criticized its books” [BoingBoing, Edwin Mellen Press] “Alternative” cancer treatment entrepreneur threatens to sue dissatisfied patient [Jardin, BB]
  • EU: Let’s regulate journalists [Morrissey] Russia law against pro-gay “propaganda” is part of wider speech crackdown [AP]
  • Twitter’s relatively laissez-faire speech policy has advanced its success [Greg Beato]
  • “Free Speech on Campus Today” [Cato podcast with FIRE's Greg Lukianoff]
  • Forbids writing about him ever again: “Judge says US-based reporter defamed Haiti’s PM” [AP/Gainesville Sun]

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a Duluth physician was not defamed by a contributor to a consumer-review site who criticized his bedside manner and referred to the doctor as a “real tool.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, ABA Journal, earlier here, etc.]

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Lance Armstrong as litigant

by Walter Olson on January 19, 2013

The disgraced cyclist, like quite a few celebrities (and non-celebrities), had filed defamation actions against persons over statements he had good reason to know were true. That’s not just a violation of his adversaries’ rights, but an inherently sanctionable use of the courts [Michael McCann/Sports Illustrated via Turkewitz; Emily Bazelon/Slate ("Armstrong 'sued so many people that by his own admission he can’t remember their names'")]

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So is that prior restraint? [Washington Post on Virginia case, background; Brian Wolfman and Paul Alan Levy, Public Citizen] More: Ken at Popehat.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on October 30, 2012

  • Australia: after talk displeasing to authorities, popular radio host ordered to undergo “factual accuracy training” [Sydney Morning Herald]
  • Jenzabar loses an appeal against documentary filmmaker [Paul Alan Levy, CL&P; earlier here, etc.]
  • “A Few Words On Reddit, Gawker, and Anonymity” [Popehat]
  • Canada: “Federal Court Upholds Hate Speech Provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act” [Yosie Saint-Cyr, Slaw] “Canadian Government Official Calls Anti-Abortion Speech Illegal ‘Bullying’” [Hans Bader, CEI, Amy Alkon]
  • U.N.-regulated web? No thanks [Robert McDowell, Federalist Society, earlier here, etc.]
  • Further thoughts from Kevin Underhill on being sued by Orly Taitz [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • U.S. State Department official: we’re not just going to roll over on this free speech business [Volokh]

Environment roundup

by Walter Olson on October 29, 2012

  • Climate prof Michael Mann sues critics including National Review, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg [Ken at Popehat, Scientific American, Ted Frank (noting Ars Technica's fair-weather disapproval of SLAPP suits), Adler and more]
  • California polls show once-massive support for Prop 37 ebbing away; is there any major newspaper in the state that likes the measure? [L.A. Times, San Jose Mercury News, San Diego U-T; earlier here, here, etc.] Views of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the general question of genetic modification labeling [statement, PDF] Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution refutes predictably lame views of Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan (stance tactfully assessed as “mood affiliation”) and discusses the impact on pesticide use with Greg Conko; more from WLF. At least Prop 37 has Michelle Lerach, hmmm [No on 37]
  • “So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement—genetic modification and fracking—have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.” [Matt Ridley, WSJ]
  • “Texas v. EPA Litigation Scorecard” [Josiah Neeley, Texas Public Policy Foundation, PDF]
  • High-visibility public chemophobe Nicholas Kristof turns his garish and buzzing searchlight on formaldehyde [Angela Logomasini, CEI]
  • Per its terms, new ordinance in Yellow Springs, Ohio, “recognizes the legally enforceable Rights of Nature to exist and flourish. Residents of the village shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of natural communities and ecosystems.” [Wesley Smith, NRO]
  • How EPA regulates without rulemaking: sue-and-settle, guidance documents, emergency powers [Ryan Young and Wayne Crews, CEI]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on September 20, 2012

  • Already firebombed once: “Satirical French Magazine Publishes Caricatures Of Mohammed, White House Rebukes.” [Mediaite] More calls for punishing makers of anti-Muslim YouTube video for supposed incitement [Ann Althouse on Sarah Chayes, earlier here and here; also, the late Christopher Hitchens on "fire in a crowded theater" arguments] “The people who instigate these protests seek a very particular goal: an extension of Egyptian and Pakistani style blasphemy laws into the West.” [David Frum]
  • “$60,000 Verdict for Blogging the Truth About A Person Intending to Get Him Fired – Reversed” [Volokh]
  • Judge closes probe of opinion-maker influence in Google-Oracle battle [The Recorder, earlier]
  • Weight-loss device promoter files, then drops suit against Public Citizen, consumerist website Fair Warning [Paul Alan Levy, Fair Warning]
  • “How Ag Gag Laws Suppress Free Speech and the Marketplace of Ideas” [Baylen Linnekin, earlier here, etc.]
  • Big government Republicans in charge: “GOP Platform Changed To Now Target All Forms Of Pornography” [Andrew Kirell, Mediaite; Volokh]
  • Missouri activist starts website criticizing local cops and soon the department’s halls display what looks very much like a “Wanted” poster of him [Eapen Thampy, Agitator]

The magic of expungement

by Walter Olson on September 19, 2012

“Is It Libel to Say Someone Was Arrested When the Arrest Record Has Been Erased?” Last year the New Jersey Supreme Court said no in a case raising the same issue as to convictions, saying the law’s expungement provision

is not intended to create an Orwellian scheme whereby previously public information — long maintained in official records — now becomes beyond the reach of public discourse on penalty of a defamation action. Although our expungement statute generally permits a person whose record has been expunged to misrepresent his past, it does not alter the metaphysical truth of his past, nor does it impose a regime of silence on those who know the truth.

Now, however, a lawsuit filed in Connecticut seeks to assert similar liability as to mention of an erased arrest record. The state erasure statute provides that the person whose record is erased “shall be deemed to have never been arrested within the meaning of the general statutes with respect to the proceedings so erased and may so swear under oath.” Eugene Volokh finds the theory of liability constitutionally defective:

the First Amendment protects other people’s rights to talk about arrests that had — as a matter of historical fact — actually happened. A statute can’t rewrite history, and force others to pretend that something didn’t happen when in fact it did happen.

(& Above the Law)

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Law school caveat emptor

by Walter Olson on September 17, 2012

A judge has dismissed another of the wave of lawsuits charging that law schools concealed evidence that placement rates, employment prospects and other relevant statistics were bleak for many graduates. The most recently dismissed case was against Chicago’s DePaul; earlier, judges threw out cases against Thomas Cooley, in Michigan, and New York Law School. [Caron, TaxProf; ABA Journal on Cooley] On the other hand, a California court will allow fraud suits to proceed against the University of San Francisco and Golden Gate law schools [Caron]

Meanwhile, critics have been sniping over some funny numbers at Rutgers-Camden [Paul Campos, Law School Scam; and more on an unrelated controversy in which an assistant law dean is hinting at legal action following unfavorable press coverage of her combined role as compliance officer and spouse for a New Jersey member of Congress]