Law Professor Seeks Bar Discipline For Attorney Who Posted Anonymous Criticism Of Her Work And Other Female Professors

nancy-leong-fullbody2There is a free speech controversy swirling around an ethics complaint in Illinois brought by University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong. 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. We have discussed the free speech rights of public employees in an earlier column and blog postings, including the right to speak on blogs and Internet sites. The actions of Leong are troubling for those of us who believe strongly in free speech values, including the right to anonymity.

The poster used “dybbuk” in posts that referenced Leong. In one post, he talks about a 28-year-old law grad and wrote “I think she has the right age, gender, credentials, and eager-to-please attitude for an ‘odd job’ I have in mind . . . Basically it involves the girl dressing up as a law professor, bending over, and trying to ask me questions about International Shoe while I spank her with a wet slipper.” He also criticized Leong, including her presentation in Hawaii on “racial capitalism,” stating “Now that is what I call a gravy train or, shall I say, a luau train. Law professors enjoying a free Hawaii vacation at some seaside hotel. All they have to do is attend some ‘annual meeting’ of some ‘society’ where they pretend to listen to Leong yap about ‘pragmatic approach[es] of reactive commodification,’ while undressing her with their eyes.”

Leong found dozens of references about her on five different websites as part of her investigation, including disparaging her scholarship and describing her as “a comely young narcissist” and a “law professor hottie.” She also said that other professors that he criticized on these various sites were overwhelmingly directed at women and professors of color. She considers anonymous postings with sexist elements to be unethical. She writes in the complaint that “There are over 6,000 tenured and tenure-track law professors in the United States have less practice experience than I do. Most of them have weaker publishing records than I do. Most of them have weaker teaching evaluations than I do. Almost all of them have been members of the legal academy longer than I have. Almost all of them have more power and prominence than I do. In light of these facts, it is difficult to think of a reasonable explanation for [dybbuk’s] obsessive attention to an untenured professor.”

That does not sound like the basis of an ethics complaint. I am highly sympathetic to Leong because I have long been amazed how anonymity unleashes the both base and juvenile instincts in some people. Many posters are consumed by jealously and prejudice — venting these feelings in a way that would never be tolerated in many public or employment settings. They often seem personify their anger in their own lives or careers against those who take on public causes or positions. It is a sad statement of our species and something that has led many blogs to ban either anonymous postings or all comments from their sites.

I can certainly understand Leong’s desire to set matters straight, though I have had far worse comments directed my way as a newspaper columnist and a television commentator. I rarely if ever respond or even correct false statements on my background. As many know, this blog enforces a civility rule while working hard to avoid banning individuals in light of our free speech principles. We also recognize the right of anonymity. When you write for a newspaper or a blog, you willingly become a public figure — a role that comes with both good and bad speech direct at you by others. One of the few exchanges that I have had with a critic was not over the content of criticism but the tenor. Some of you may recall that a few year ago I had an interesting exchange with another legal blog where the host expressly rejected civility on her site or other sites. I continue to believe that people, especially lawyers, carry a responsibility to engage in respectful and civil dialogue. All of us will have relapses, but most of us were raised to show such respect in dealings with others, even those with whom we disagree. Clearly Leong is dealing with someone who long ago abandoned such restraints, but that does not mean that his speech should be the subject of discipline by a bar.

In my view, the criticism of Leong’s writings or experience falls squarely under protected speech. Ironically, she has an impressive publication and academic record that speaks for itself without the need for extrinsic disciplinary mechanisms. Moreover, as an anonymous filing, these are postings that do not reflect on this man’s employer. Underlying the complaint seems to be a view that sexist or racist statements made as an anonymous person would still constitute a violation. We have discussed in many blogs and columns and (here) how non-discrimination laws have increasingly collided with free speech principles.

In a blog posting, Leong speaks about investigating harassers. She says that she tracked down her critic to confront him:

To my regret, my harasser refused to speak to me. I called him at his office (once) and left a message with the person (not him) who picked up the phone simply leaving my name and number and asking him to call me. He didn’t call back. A few days later I emailed him (once), explaining that I had identified him and that I wished to discuss his Internet posting activities. The email was difficult to write. It triggered emotions relating to an experience confronting a person who abused me many years ago. I did my best to keep the email polite and professional and–to the extent I could–I tried to express some sympathy for circumstances in his life of which I might not be aware.

It clearly did not work and Leong proceeded to file a formal complaint. That is where I have to respectfully disagree with Professor Leong. The effort to punish this poster threatens free speech and creates a chilling message for those who wish to engage in discussions on an anonymous basis. I know that that is not her purpose but she is attempting to discipline a person for criticizing her and engaging in language that she finds offensive. That is anathema for most civil libertarians even though most of us find these writings to be offensive and insulting. As academics, we owe a special duty to free speech and the need to preserve protected spaces for such speech on campus and the Internet. This is precisely why it was so alarming to see Jewish students recently seek to strip anonymity for posters of material that they find objectionable. Free speech comes at a cost, particularly for those who become public figures. The Internet is rife with hateful and false statements. However, it is also the single greatest advance in free speech in history. I am confident that the work of Professor Leong will be remembered long after dybbuk has passed into well-deserved obscurity. However, this should not be part of that legacy.

I understand from personal experience the anger and frustration of having trolls and critics write false or vicious things about you. Yet, Professor Leong should withdraw this complaint. If not, it should be denied by the Commission as intruding into free speech areas, in my opinion.

What do you think?

Source: ABA Journal

232 thoughts on “Law Professor Seeks Bar Discipline For Attorney Who Posted Anonymous Criticism Of Her Work And Other Female Professors”

  1. annie,

    Why do you think Leong should have options for dealing with someone who is trying to destroy her career? She’s just a self-absorbed narcissist who can’t abide criticism. Let her take it like a man and move on with her life.


  2. Jonolon, baloney put on artisan bread and smothered in gourmet mayo with all the fixings is still baloney. I endorse that Leong has options that she can employ in response to someone who was trying to destroy her career and she’s smart enough to do just that. You sound like someone I hope my daughter never had to serve with, a misogynist.

    1. Is there a cause of action for someone who tries to discredit another person using unethical or devious means? Is ratfcuking against the law? Insincere demeaning of another people? They could claim it’s sincere. Should using logical fallacies be against the law?

      Isn’t that what we are debating here?

  3. Elaine,

    Leong’s supporters here, at least, condoned her methodology in “being strong.” It seems logical that they would endorse functionally similar tactics for Otteray’s daughters.

    Let me see… this Annie for OK approves of: stalking him, getting him fired, and contacting his wife (Hoping for a divorce with the requisite confiscation of hid property?) is he has one…because she wasn’t fond of his online comments, the body of which I still haven’t found so can’t even begin to judge.

    From this Annie’s comments I think she should talk to her daughter. As a vet I can tell you she wouldn’t have been taught to act in the manner her mother endorses. We go up the chain only when it is truly needful…because, man or woman, we’re taught strength and self-reliance.

  4. That’s what I say Elaine – WAY too much leap in abject logic there.

    Otteray is one cool dude.

    His life’s work should be in a book
    (and IF I get back what Romney’s Gang stole – I’ll try to make that happen)

  5. “Good for her, Otteray. You’ve raised her right.

    “On the other hand, Leong and her supporters seem to indicate that your daughter should have instead filed a complaint with NASCAR or the driver’s sponsors.”


    How did “Leong’s supporters” indicate that?????

  6. awh – come one jonalan… REALLY!

    Hey – Otteray;

    I just had a mental pic of you in leather, being whipped on by Hillary with a cat-o-9, chasing the brewski barrel to bury your head in.

    Just cause I’m being silly with glee today – and want to get my mind off all this..

  7. Good for her, Otteray. You’ve raised her right.

    On the other hand, Leong and her supporters seem to indicate that your daughter should have instead filed a complaint with NASCAR or the driver’s sponsors.

  8. Elaine,
    Spot on about strong women. I like strong women, and have always had strong, capable women in my life. Love it…and them. Some men are intimidated by such women, and never miss a chance to snipe at them. My youngest is a master of the slapdown for guys who can’t handle her independence.

    When she was only eleven, she handed a NASCAR Winston Cup winner his ass. I think he expected her to do the fan thing; want to shake hands or get an autograph. Instead, she stuck her nose in the air and walked past him. After we got in the car, I asked her why she responded to him that way. She said, “I don’t like him because he is rude.”

  9. Our country has gone from financial nobility and perception of having integrity; towards the other end of the spectrum that “money, power & might make right”.

  10. Before you all go saying that I’m totally off my gourd;
    did you know that George Romney, Secretary of H.U.D. under Nixon

    and that – George

    was the first to propose Mortgage Backed Securities?

    ……………. I’m just sayin……..

    1. I think it would be interesting to see if it was the derivatives that really got us into such tremendous troubles. Mortgage backed securities worked for many years and works find as long as inflation is null or very mild. Deficit spending and fractional lending are both very bad policies that cause inflation. Go figure that the Fed Reserve Bank didn’t stabilize the markets after all. No, you mean the central banksters were lying to us.

      1. ” Mortgage backed securities worked for many years and works find as long as inflation is null or very mild. ”

        What seems to be a defense of MBS is in fact a devastating criticism. One main use of MBS is to provide a tool for the most sophisticate investors to hedge economic and business risk.

        I could be wrong, But I think inflation measured by CPI from 2000 through 2008, roughly the beginning of the last recession, was about 3% a year. I would call that mild. In any case, eyeballing the chart, inflation seemed very uniform from month to month, during that time period. So whether you consider 3% high or low there was little unexpected, in regard to inflation, during that time period.

        If the most sophisticated investors in the economy, under almost ideal inflation conditions, cannot use MBS to enhance stability then perhaps we should give serious consideration to regulating that market to prevent additional occurrences that do so much economic damage.

        “Deficit spending and fractional lending are both very bad policies that cause inflation.”

        Under certain, specific economic conditions they do lead to inflation. Under other economic conditions they do not. Deficit spending is a tool for economic policy. Like most tools, there are appropriate places to use it and there are inappropriate applications as well.

        The important point is to understand the implications of economic conditions and not get locked into one rote answer.

  11. Christie gets elected as POTUS and pardons the Gal
    making her co-head of his Secret Service unit.

    Meanwhile, VP Romney sells Michigan to Bain and Sankaty pockets the China Loan commission in his off shore accounts.

    and USAG Sheldon Adelson is found not guilty by Boehner’s Justice Committee for partnering up with Goldman Sachs on naked shorting of America & the Fed.

  12. Rafflaw, she was actually there a full year with the 1st MLG, Camp Leatherneck. I am thrilled she is back in country, she was here during the attack on Camp Bastion, just down the road from it actually. We heard about it from our Navy Moms group and durin the lock down, we moms and dads were on pins and needles. All of our kids came home safe.

  13. Well yeah – go ahead – make my day; women with guns don’t scare me.

    They are – Blam Blam Blam

    End of Romney’s Laser Haas problem by former Vet asserting women’s right to shoot too!

  14. Exactly Elaine. That was my goal in raising my three daughters and I’m glad to report that all three are just as you describe. Their husbands like ’em that way too. 🙂

    My son is great too, thought I had better mention him lest I be caused of favoring the girls. 😉

  15. annie,
    I am glad your daughter is back in country! When my son had his tour in Afghanistan, those 7 months were the hardest of my life.

  16. I wasn’t referring to women who actually go hunting with guns. I meant the take-charge, capable, independent women who are successful in the working world, can support themselves, and aren’t dependent upon nor subservient to men.

  17. Laser, my daughter was in Afghanistan for a year, she’s now back in Camp Pendleton.

  18. I live in a hunting state. I taught and coached female hunters, I LOVE tomboys, tough, athletic, meat eating, beer drinking, farting w/ frankness, women. The “Men hunt, women nest” is an anthropological sound bite. And, I know of NO MEN who are scared of women hunters. I do know many hunters, male and female, “scared” of drunk hunters. I’m sure there are some. But, that’s a stereotype that comes from blue, little or non hunting, states; like the Bay State, or my home state of Ct. Women hunting in the real world of Wi., the great Midwest, is a nonissue. So, there’s that.

  19. knows how to use big guns;

    Now I’m having thoughts that will get me slapped.

    Sheessshhh = had lunch with Ed O’Neill just 2 tables away a day ago; and thought how he could play me in the film.

    So how long is your daughter staying in Afghan???

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