As many of you have followed, there is a controversy that appears to building by the hour. Let’s start with a quick recap. There is a free speech controversy swirling around an ethics complaint in Illinois brought by University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong (below left). Leong runs a blog site called Feminist Law Professors and recently discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who has, according to Leong, left racist and sexist comments. She says that he is a a public defender in his late 40s and she wants him punished for his comments. He posted under the name Dybbuk. Some of us criticized that complaint as ill-advised and a threat to free speech principles. Then University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter (left) who held a poll of sorts to determine if he should reveal the name of Dybbuk. Leiter says that Professor Paul F. Campos (right) has threatened him not to reveal the identity of the poster targeting Nancy Leong with the disclosure of unspecified embarrassing information on Leiter. That is where we last left this controversy. We have now received a response from Professor Campos.
In the earlier discussion, I noted that Leiter directly accused Campos of threatening him in the email after he supported Leong and held the poll on whether to “out” the anonymous poster who criticized her.
We then received the following comment on our blog:
I contacted Leiter because I assumed he would want to know that someone is trying to get me (and perhaps other people with media platforms) to participate in this person’s scheme to embarrass him. And of course this person might act on his or her own.
In his characteristically dishonest fashion, Leiter is failing to mention that he has already “outed” Dybbuk on at least two occasions, by publicizing Dybbuk’s real name on two different internet fora.
Amusingly, Leiter ran a poll on his law school blog, soliciting opinions on whether he should do something (disclose the identity of a pseudonymous internet critic) which he had in fact already done. The anonymous person who contacted me was apparently unaware of this, and, since I did not respond to the message, I didn’t correct that mistaken impression.
Before addressing the comment, I wrote to Professor Campos to confirm that he is the author of the statement and that he had informed Leiter that he was not the author of the email. He confirmed that he is the author of the comment and added (with permission for full disclosure) that:
I sent Leiter an email letting him know that I had gotten a message from somebody who was threatening to publicize what this person characterized as embarrassing revelations regarding Leiter, if Leiter outed Dybbuk, and that this person was trying to enlist me in this project. As I pointed out in the comment on your blog, Leiter had via his internet activity already “outed” Dybbuk, by posting his real name on a couple of sites, and it puzzles me why Leiter continues to pretend that he hasn’t outed Dybbuk.
Since Campos says that Leiter already published the name of the individual, it would suggest that there is no “blackmail” of Leiter to try to prevent the disclosure. Moreover, he insists that he merely warned Leiter of the attempt and refused to engage in such a threat. Yet, Leiter clearly reads it as a threat and refers to “Campos’s latest malfeasance.” He also strongly suggests that the two are in league and refers to them as “Campos and dybbuk are “cyber-buddies.”
That raises the issue eluded to in our earlier discussion. There are a great number of allegations of unethical and potentially criminal acts being fired across the Internet. Campos is saying that he warned Leiter and that Leiter took the warning and told people that Campos was blackmailing him. While he included the email, the title of the blog clearly conveys the allegation of wrongdoing. Headlines alone can be defamatory under tort law. Here an allegation of blackmailing falls under a per se category of defamation by impugning the professional character of a law as well as alleging criminal conduct. While Leiter can insist that this is merely opinion and his inclusion of the email may suffice to show that he has not misrepresented any of the underlying facts, these cross allegations could easily move beyond the purely rhetorical.