Mark Steyn’s self-destructive streak

As a longtime fan of Steyn’s writing, I’m disappointed to see him doing pretty much everything you should never do when you’re the defendant in a defamation suit:

In 2012—after writers for 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.

[…]

Weisberg’s order is just the latest in a string of setbacks that have left the climate change skeptics’ case in disarray. Earlier this month, Steptoe & Johnson, the law firm representing National Review and its writer, Mark Steyn, withdrew as Steyn’s counsel. According to two sources with inside knowledge, it also plans to drop 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.”But Steyn maintains it was his decision to part ways with his attorneys.

[…]

…on Christmas Eve, Steyn published his blog post, railing against Combs Greene and her ruling, which contained typographical errors and mixed up the defendants:

Among her many staggering incompetences, DC Superior Court judge Natalia Combs-Greene…denied NR’s motion to dismiss the fraudulent complaint while simultaneously permitting Mann’s lawyers to file an amended complaint.

The appellate judges have now tossed out anything relating to Mann’s original fraudulent complaint, including Judge Combs-Greene’s unbelievably careless ruling in which the obtuse jurist managed to confuse the defendants, and her subsequent ruling in which she chose to double-down on her own stupidity. Anything with Combs-Greene’s name on it has now been flushed down the toilet of history.

When asked about these comments, Steyn made no apologies. “I spent the first months attempting to conceal my contempt for Judge Combs Greene’s court,” he said in an email to Mother Jones. “But really, it’s not worth the effort.” Wednesday’s ruling affirms the thrust of Combs Greene’s order, however. It also concludes that “a reasonable jury is likely to find the statement that Dr. Mann ‘molested and tortured data’ was false, and published with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for whether it was false or not.”

Steyn, meanwhile, appears to be paying a price for his brazenness. He still has no legal representation. (“My check from the Koch brothers seems to have been lost in the mail or intercepted by the NSA,” he wrote. “So for the moment I am representing myself.”) And since his Christmas Eve diatribe, the conservative pundit—who had been writing near-daily posts for National Review Online—hasn’t written a single item. Neither he nor the magazine’s publisher, Jack Fowler, would say why. But Steyn hinted at the reasons in a post on his website: “As readers may have deduced from my absence at National Review Online and my termination of our joint representation, there have been a few differences between me and the rest of the team.”

The future of National Review itself could now be in jeopardy because of this lawsuit.  There appear to be conflicting stories about whether Steyn fired his lawyers or whether they withdrew from the case, but I know that if my client insisted on talking about the case at all – much less writing a blog post insulting the judge – I’d be advising him to seek other legal counsel immediately.

I wish Steyn and his (former?) magazine well, but it’s almost like he’s determined to lose.  What a pity.

Whoever wins, we lose

The good news is, Donald Trump or Bill Maher will lose this case. The bad news is, Donald Trump or Bill Maher will win this case:

Donald Trump is filing a lawsuit against Bill Maher for failing to live up to an “unconditional offer” made on NBC’s Tonight Show to donate $5 million to charity if Trump provided a copy of his birth certificate proving that he’s not “spawn of his mother having sex with orangutan.”

We’ll chip in $500 to the charity of Trump’s choice if he actually prevails in court over Maher and collects $5 million.

“Trump would have to prove that Maher’s words and conduct demonstrated, objectively, that he intended to be bound by his statement, and that he was not merely making a joke,” says Dori Ann Hanswirth. “Given the outrageousness of Maher’s statement, the amount of money involved and the fact that his statement was made on a comedy TV show, it seems that Trump has an uphill battle here.”

[…]

perhaps the case that might most demonstrate why Trump is likely to lose is the case ofthe Pepsi Points.

In 1999, John Leonard sued PepsiCo., attempting to get the company to hand over an AV-8 Harrier II jump jet. The advertised “offer” came in the form of a television commercial that showed the big prize for 7 million Pepsi points. Leonard had 15 points and attempted to send Pepsi a certified check for $700,000 — 10 cents a point, per contest rules — to cover the rest.

Pepsi successfully argued that its advertisement was intended to be humorous.

“Plaintiff’s insistence that the commercial appears to be a serious offer requires the Court to explain why the commercial is funny,” wrote a judge. “Explaining why a joke is funny is a daunting task; as the essayist E.B. White has remarked, ‘Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process.’ ”

Ultimately, Leonard was deemed to be a loser.

As the judge wrote: “A reasonable viewer would understand such advertisements as mere puffery, not as statements of fact. … The Court rejects plaintiff’s argument that the commercial was not clearly in jest.”

The crazy case of Crystal Cox

Forbes on a disgusting case of internet extortion:

Crystal Cox, a Montana woman who calls herself an “investigative journalist” was slapped with a $2.5-million judgment last year for defaming an investment firm and one of its lead partners. Cox had taken control of the Google footprint of Obsidian Finance and its principal Kevin Padrick by writing hundreds of posts about them on dozens of websites she owned, inter-linking them in ways that made them rise up in Google search results; it ruined Obsidian’s business due to prospective clients being put off by the firm’s seemingly terrible online reputation. After Obsidian sued Cox, she contacted them offering her “reputation services;” for $2,500 a month, she could “fix” the firm’s reputation and help promote its business. (In some circles, we call that  ”extortion.”)

Nonetheless, when the outrageously high judgment came down, some bloggers rushed to Cox’s defense, in great part because the judge declared Cox not to be a member of the media in a poorly-written opinion that some interpreted to mean that bloggers generally couldn’t claim legal protections for members of the press. So First Amendment-loving lawyers, including Eugene Volokh of the Volokh Conspiracy and Matthew Zimmerman at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, offered Cox their services in appealing the case and attempting to get a new trial. (They were denied this week, with the judge clarifying that bloggers can be journalists, but that Cox is a serial harasser, not a journalist.) Another lawyer, Marc Randazza had also spoken with Cox about her case; after deciding not to work with him, Cox sent him an email letting him know that she “needed to make money” and was willing to offer him her reputation management services. In fact, she had already bought his domain name — marcrandazza.com. …

[…]

She bought the domain name for Marc’s wife, Jennifer Randazza (and has already started dominating her first page of Google results with her hyperbolic posts). When Randazza still wouldn’t buy her services, Cox moved on to a younger member of the family:

“When this didn’t get the desired response, Cox turned to a place where even the lowest of the low would not stoop — she focused her stalkerish attention on my three-year-old daughter and registered NataliaRandazza.com.” [emphasis added]

Via Ken at Popehat, who has been all over this story.  Randazza’s blog is here.

This week in frivolous lawsuits

1. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder (the man who makes Oakland Raiders fans say, “whew, at least our team is not run by that guy”) was upset by a hilarious Washington City Paper story portraying him as an incompetent, money-grubbing bully.   And what better way to show you’re not a bully by suing the paper for defamation and threatening, ” the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper”?

Bonus: Snyder also accuses the paper of anti-Semitism.  If he wants to get all PC on us, maybe he should look at that team nickname again.

2. Jimmy Carter is being sued by some people who were shocked to find out his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was a bit one-sided:

More than four years after its publication, five disgruntled readers have filed a class-action lawsuit against President Jimmy Carter and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, alleging that his 2006 book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” contained “numerous false and knowingly misleading statements intended to promote the author’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda and to deceive the reading public instead of presenting accurate information as advertised.”

The five plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are seeking at least $5 million in compensation. The hard cover edition cost $27.

The suit accuses Carter and his publisher of violating New York consumer protection laws because they engaged in “deceptive acts in the course of conducting business” and alleges that they sought enrichment by promoting the book “as a work of non-fiction.”

In a press release, one of the attorneys, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner stated: “The lawsuit will expose all the falsehoods and misrepresentations in Carter’s book and prove that his hatred of Israel has led him to commit this fraud on the public. He is entitled to his opinions but deceptions and lies have no place in works of history.”

My position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can effectively be summarized as “the opposite of whatever Jimmy Carter says,” but this pretty silly.  In the unlikely event that this isn’t laughed out of court, do we all get to sue writers just because we’re offended by their politics?  (If so, dibs on Hints from Heloise. She knows why.)

Live Through This

In a case that promises to be interesting and wildly entertaining, Courtney Love is being sued for defamation because of things she posted on Twitter:

In a potentially precedent-setting trial, Courtney Love is being sued for talking s**t on Twitter, specifically a series of comments directed at fashion designer Dawn Simonrangkir (a.k.a the “Boudoir Queen”), who claims that Love’s tweets—including allegations that Simonrangkir is “a drug-pushing prostitute with a history of assault and battery who lost custody of her own child and capitalized on Love’s fame before stealing from her”—amount to career-damaging defamation.

[…]

Love has already given a deposition in which she argued that she was only repeating on Twitter what she’d heard from Simonrangkir herself—obviously, Simonrangkir denies that—and while the whole “you’re a drug-addled mess who lost custody of her child and who has a history of capitalizing on other people’s fame” could likely be settled with a citation of Pot v. Kettle, the case will, interestingly enough, most likely come down to what’s being called “an insanity defense for social media.” Love’s team of witnesses reportedly includes a medical expert who will testify that Love’s mental state at the time of her tweets was not “subjectively malicious,” and that “Twitter was so appealing and addictive for Love that she had no appreciation for how the comments she posted would be received by others.” We’re no experts, but the argument that Courtney Love clearly has no idea that the insane s**t she posts on Twitter is being read by actual people outside of her own brain seems to be the sort of defense those in the legal profession call “airtight.”

More at The Hollywood Reporter. Love’s current twitter feed now features nothing but relatively benign photos, suggesting that she’s either been miraculously cured or got her handlers to scrub it clean. (No matter how much you hate your job, thank God you’re not the guy who has to read all of Courtney Love’s tweets and delete the ones that might get her sued.)