DC judge denies National Review and CEI’s motion to dismiss climate scientist’s defamation complaint – Defendants’ lawyers jump shipPosted by Jim at Friday, January 24, 2014
23 January 2014 (Climate Science Watch) – Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently is a factual allegation that can be proven true or false, not mere hyperbolic opinionating. If it is false it is defamatory, and if it is made with actual malice it is actionable. So said DC Superior Court Frederick Weisberg in tossing out motions by defendants National Review et al. to dismiss Prof. Michael Mann's defamation complaint -- thus moving the case a step toward discovery proceedings and a jury trial.
The matter before the court in this latest step of the thus-far procedurally rather tangled case was on the separate special motions of defendants Mark Steyn and National Review, Inc. and of defendants Competitive Enterprise Institute and Rand Simberg to dismiss Michael Mann's amended defamation complaint. On January 22, DC Superior Court Judge Weisberg denied defendants' motions to dismiss under the DC Anti-SLAPP Act and on one other ground.
The judge's ruling, and specifically what he says in his order, looks good for Prof. Mann's position. Here's a bit of what Judge Weisberg said:
Opinions and rhetorical hyperbole are protected speech under the First Amendment. Arguably, several of defendants’ statements fall into these protected categories. Some of defendants’ statements, however, contain what could reasonably be understood as assertions of fact. Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity. They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable. Viewing the allegations of the amended complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a reasonable finder of fact is likely to find in favor of the plaintiff on each of Counts I-VI, including the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress alleged in Count VI as to both sets of defendants.
So much for the argument that what Simberg and Steyn were doing was mere opinionating, mere rhetorical flourishes. Judge Weisberg appears to slam dunk that position. It's against the law to accuse someone, with malice, of scientific fraud, if the accusation won't stand up in court (and not just to the satisfaction of the defendants and their support subculture). [more]
By Mariah Blake
24 January 2014
(Mother Jones) – In 2012—after writers for the National Review and a prominent conservative think tank accused him of fraud and compared him to serial child molester Jerry Sandusky—climate scientist Michael Mann took the bold step of filing a defamation suit. The defendants moved to have the case thrown out, citing a Washington, DC, law that shields journalists from frivolous litigation. But on Wednesday, DC Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg rejected the motion, opening the way for a trial.
Although public figures like Mann have to clear a high bar to prove defamation, Judge Weisberg argued that the scientist's complaint may pass the test. And he brushed aside the defendants' claims that the fraud allegations were "pure opinion," which is protected by the First Amendment.
Weisberg's order is just the latest in a string of setbacks, which have left the climate-change skeptics' case in disarray. Earlier this month, Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm representing the National Review and its writer, Mark Steyn, withdrew as Steyn’s counsel. According to two sources with inside knowledge, it also plans to drop the National Review as a client.
The lawyers’ withdrawal came shortly after Steyn—a prominent conservative pundit, who regularly fills in as host of Rush Limbaugh's radio show—publicly attacked the former judge in the case, Natalia Combs Greene, accusing her of "stupidity" and "staggering" incompetence. Mann’s attorney, John B. Williams, suspects this is no coincidence. "Any lawyer would be taken aback if their client said such things about the judge," he says. "That may well be why Steptoe withdrew."
Steyn's manager, Melissa Howes, acknowledged that his commentary "did not go over well with the judge." But Steyn maintains it was his decision to part ways with his attorneys. [more]