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Lawyering up » Pharyngula

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Aug 12 2013

Lawyering up

So, Michael Shermer’s lawyers have sent me a letter (pdf). It consists of accusations that I lied about being contacted directly by the victim of his assault (which is not true; that I had corroboration from other people does not imply that there was no primary source), that I did it for the blog hits (Jeebus, no, this does not profit me in the slightest and is more likely to have a long term cost to me), that I acted in malice against Shermer (also entirely false — I have nothing against the man), and that Shermer is shocked, shocked I tell you, never having ever heard such an accusation against him before (given that my correspondent has email from him making excuses for his behavior, this is clearly a lie).

Time to consider legal assistance now. I’m really, really reluctant to take down the post and especially reluctant to delete the comments as they demand, but I may close comments on that post until this is resolved.

61 comments

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  1. 1
    Lofty

    Thus spake the Catholic Church For Enquiry.

  2. 2
    Pteryxx

    Popehat. Contact Popehat. Going by their twitter, they already know.

    https://twitter.com/popehat

  3. 3
    michaelblayney

    Well, fuck. I guess we knew it was coming, but goddamn.

  4. 4
    skeptianthro

    Keep fighting the good fight, sir!

  5. 5
    screechymonkey

    Fortunately, California (where both Shermer and his attorneys are based) has one of the best anti-SLAPP laws in the country.

  6. 6
    PZ Myers

    Yeah, I sent a quick note to ken at popehat — just for recommendations on what I should do next. I’ve also contacted my correspondent — she calls it “terrifying”. And she’s the one I’m most concerned about here.

  7. 7
    changerofbits

    The letter says PZ is doing it solely for blog hits!!! Do Shermer’s lawyers hang around the ‘pit?

  8. 8
    G Pierce (Was ~G~)

    Let me know when there is a legal fund established, not only for defense attorneys for the victims, but if any victims choose to file suit against any organizations who were negligent, etc.

  9. 9
    sharkjack

    and the farce just keeps going and going. Contacting legal assistance is pretty unavoidable now. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this but it was pretty obvious that it would. Good luck PZ.

  10. 10
    b. - Order of Lagomorpha

    Ah, good. I was about to suggest Popehat. Hang in there, PZ. I just posted on the post about the Scientific American post being taken down. Since I won’t be going to the CFISummit, I should have some spare cash to donate to a legal fund if needed.

  11. 11
    Ace of Sevens

    I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is he has no chance of actually winning a case against you. Your challenge isn’t to win: it’s to protect your source.

  12. 12
    Randomfactor

    And to SLAPP back. Let us know about a legal fund if needed.

  13. 13
    Al Dente

    I can’t say I’m surprised. Considering Shermer’s eruption over Ophelia’s mild criticism of him, he’s likely foaming at the mouth over an accusation of real wrongdoing.

  14. 14
    Martin Wagner

    7:

    The letter says PZ is doing it solely for blog hits

    Yeah, it will interesting to see how they intend to substantiate that one during discovery.

    Having been involved in online defamation litigation once myself, I can tell you (though IANAL) that C&D letters are mostly meant to intimidate and silence, and are not, in and of themselves documents that carry any legal weight. They are often used, however, as the “shot across the bow” indicating that a suit is in the offing if it is not obeyed. If someone comes at you handing you a C&D letter in one hand while holding a suit ready for filing in the other, then worry. This may be the situation here.

  15. 15
    PZ Myers

    No, no — he’s not erupting. He’s dismayed and totally surprised — nobody has ever so much as rebuked him for horndogging it.

  16. 16
    more or less normal, mostly

    Long, long-time reader, first time poster. I ain’t got a lot of money to spare, but PZ – if you wind up needing to set up a legal fund, I’ll throw in at least $100.

  17. 17
    Cerberus von Snarkmistress

    Gosh. Turning to legal intimidation when he doesn’t get his way. Clearly behavior so utterly removed from that of an abuser, how could we have ever thought poorly of him.

    Also, one of the most prominent atheist bloggers ever is desperate for blog hits. Uh huh, pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

    But seriously, protect yourself the best you can. And to the anonymous survivor, I’m terribly sorry this is all happening to you and if you are reading along, let me extend ALL THE SAFE HUGS that I can. We’ve all got your back… minus the trolls.

  18. 18
    butterflyfish

    PZ, I am so sorry this is happening to you for doing the right thing. Thank you and thank you to your source, for warning the rest of us.

  19. 19
    carlie

    His is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    I was going to mention popehat too – glad you’re already in contact.

    Again, I’m so sorry you’re being put through this, and thank you.

  20. 20
    Pteryxx

    More possible resources:

    http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/

    Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, and AAUW specializes in it.

    Also the ACLU defends against SLAPP suits, and the EFF may help defend against suits that silence bloggers.

  21. 21
    Lofty

    Shermer’s never heard of “don’t be that guy”? It’s almost as if his middle name was “Skeptic”.

  22. 22
    Sven

    Just as you did not reveal the identity of Mr. Shermer’s alleged accuser, you also failed to identify the organization this woman allegedly reported to, leaving Mr. Shermer in total darkness to defend blindly against these highly serious charges of rape and sexual misconduct.

    The angry-lawyer-letter is largely spurious and nasty, but this paragraph I’ve quoted isn’t unreasonable. A person can’t just raise such serious allegations anonymously, and you may have blundered by facilitating that. Everyone, even a scummy lowlife, has a right to face their accuser.

  23. 23
    R Johnston

    Here is the link to Timothy Neufeld’s California Bar info page

    Here is the link to the form for submitting disciplinary complaints about an attorney.

    IANAL, but filing a complaint with the California Bar because of a completely frivolous threat of a SLAPP suit seems like the right thing to do. The attorney signing his name to this letter should be dragged through the mud.

  24. 24
    carlie

    Ok, maybe “a professional corporation” is some kind of lawerly designation, but right there at the top of the page it looks just like a fake letterhead setup for someone’s Composition class business writing assignment.

  25. 25
  26. 26
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’m so disgusted that I can barely think straight.

    Do what you need to do to protect yourself, and especially to protect the anonymous person that you’re doing this for. The word is already out, Shermer isn’t going to have an easy time getting people alone and drunk anymore, done bun can’t be undone. Now take care of of yourselves, whatever it takes.

  27. 27
    mrlynne

    Do what you’ve got to do PZ. Go forth, do good, and watch your back.

  28. 28
    b. - Order of Lagomorpha

    There’s also the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Another possible avenue of assistance.

  29. 29
    Tom Foss

    I like that they claim that that post has the “highest number of comments of any entry in the history of your entire Blog.” Isn’t the Elevatorgate post called “3d5k” for the number of days & comments? Still only 4,112 on the grenade post. Silly lawyers.

  30. 30
    mikedunford

    My reading during the first year of law school – just finished – contained many examples of people who did not get attorneys. Those examples did not normally end well.

    In this case, there’s additional internet-related complications that will come into play and involve factors like what courts will be able to have jurisdiction over you, where you can be sued, and so forth. If Shermer carries through with a suit, it will almost certainly turn (literally) into a federal case, and there will be issues surrounding choice of law and other procedural aspects – and all that comes before the first amendment issues come in, the question of whether he is a public figure for Sullivan purposes, and so on.

    If this were me, I would get a lawyer — and soon.

  31. 31
    Caine, Fleur du mal

    Do what you have to do, PZ. I’d hate to lose all those comments, but that’s an incredibly small thing weighed against your safety and the safety of Jane Doe.

  32. 32
    Cerberus von Snarkmistress

    Sven @22

    Everyone, even a scummy lowlife, has a right to face their accuser.

    Only when they are facing criminal charges dipshit. They don’t have a right to access their abuse victims for the purpose of legally or socially intimidating and perpetuating the previous abuse in order to avoid having social culpability for their actions.

    Someone talked about her life experiences. Other women did the same. He can whine and plead and preen to his douchebro audience about how everyone knows that bitches be lying, but he doesn’t have the right to perpetuate the abuse.

    And frankly, the tactic chosen against PZ rather demonstrates his intended form of “facing his accusers” he was planning to do.

  33. 33
  34. 34
    mikedunford

    @R. Johnson:

    Even if the California Bar was a very motivated and active organization (which is debatable, given that Orly Taitz is still a member in good standing), there’s no grounds for a complaint here. Shermer may not have a winning case, but not every losing case is legally frivolous.

  35. 35
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    31
    Caine, Fleur du mal

    Do what you have to do, PZ. I’d hate to lose all those comments, but that’s an incredibly small thing weighed against your safety and the safety of Jane Doe.

    Ditto’d. And Pteryxx has the links to prove 3d5k so the claim of “most blog comments” can be shut the fuck down. It’s linked in the other thread, I’ll go look for ‘em too.

  36. 36
    Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine"

    Im sure some neredowell has thought to cache and mirror the OP in case it has to be removed. such a vandal would surely then repropogate the OP in horrible defiance of law and freespeech

    Yaaaay Shermer. what a guy

    dont sue me

  37. 37
    eigenperson

    I’m no lawyer, but I suspect that Ken, or any other attorney, would probably advise you to not discuss the case until you have received legal advice.

  38. 38
    dshetty

    I’m really, really reluctant to take down the post and especially reluctant to delete the comments as they demand

    ah lawyers – still haven’t figured out the internet.

  39. 39
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Taking the post down won’t do any good (that’s what they’re hoping you’ll do); it’s already out there. Also, I wouldn’t do so if it were me—I’d feel like I was admitting guilt. Having been through a libel case (as a defendant, and I won), take it for what it’s worth I guess?

  40. 40
    screechymonkey

    I’m really, really reluctant to take down the post and especially reluctant to delete the comments as they demand, but I may close comments on that post until this is resolved.

    I have to say, it surprises me that you’re even considering this. I kind of figured you were prepared for this possibility and had gamed it out.

    It was entirely predictable that Shermer would threaten to sue you; surely you contemplated that beforehand. (If not, there were a kajillion trolls showing up in the thread to tell you just that.) If one cease and desist letter was going to be enough to make you take down the post, then why bother doing it in the first place?

  41. 41
    Marcus Ranum

    It would be nice to be able to give them the response in Arkell V Pressdram
    http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/05/reply-given-in-arkell-v-pressdram.html

  42. 42
    carlie

    I like that they claim that that post has the “highest number of comments of any entry in the history of your entire Blog.”

    Besides being wrong, they apparently didn’t notice the number of side conversations that happened in that thread. It’s not like every one of those comments was about him.

  43. 43
    slignot

    Everyone, even a scummy lowlife, has a right to face their accuser.

    Sven (22) You are WRONG.

    You are wrong because a victim talking about their own experiences as a warning to others on PZ’s blog is not a legal proceeding. You see, Pharyngula, it turns out, is actually not at courtroom and Shermer is facing no legal ramifications whatsoever.

  44. 44
    Randomfactor

    I think the pertinent case is Streisand v. Pictopia.

  45. 45
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    #40 screechymonkey

    I have to say, it surprises me that you’re even considering this. I kind of figured you were prepared for this possibility and had gamed it out.

    It was entirely predictable that Shermer would threaten to sue you; surely you contemplated that beforehand. (If not, there were a kajillion trolls showing up in the thread to tell you just that.) If one cease and desist letter was going to be enough to make you take down the post, then why bother doing it in the first place?

    Because it was the right thing to do, dumbass, to warn other women. IIRC PZ even commented in the thread about legal possibilities. It’s more like he’s willing to take it down if that’s what he has to do to protect Jane Doe and himself. Which, again, if it’s necessary and will keep Jane Doe protected would be the right thing to do.

  46. 46
    Tom Foss

    I also like how they want you to take down the post from any other website where it might be posted, as if that were a thing that were possible for someone to do.

    But they do talk about the damage that the statements caused and are continuing to cause to Mr. Shermer, so perhaps we’ll finally get some answer as to how, exactly, he’s being harmed. I wait with bated breath.

  47. 47
    yazikus

    Is it just me that noticed they both misspelled Carrie Poppy’s name and got tomorrow’s date wrong? As far as I can tell tomorrow is Wednesday August 13th, not 14th…

  48. 48
    yazikus

    Derp- Tuesday not Wednesday.

  49. 49
    yazikus

    Never mind. I can’t read today.

  50. 50
    carlie

    So, Michael Shermer’s lawyers have sent me a letter (pdf)

    Hey, close that… oh, never mind.

  51. 51
    Cerberus von Snarkmistress

    slignot @43

    EXACTLY. So fucking sick of idiots conflating criminal law proceedings intended to protect usually marginalized voices at risk of incarceration at the say-so of more powerful people with every day life in order to cudgel often marginalized voices into remaining silent.

    Bullshit like “they have a right to face their accusers” and “innocent until proven guilty” have an important role in criminal law only and are not intended so that every single abusive fuck can get one last shot at the victims they’ve already scared off making a criminal case against and try and prevent them even talking about their experiences or receiving any form of social support for it.

    It’s fucking infuriating.

  52. 52

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