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. annieofwi,

    When did we women who have been commenting on this thread say that we thiought that men and women weren’t different? Sometimes words are put in our mouths in order to divert away from the argument that women want to be treated as equals and not as sex objects or inferior beings. It’s been said we need to act as equal to men if we want to be treated as equals. What the heck does that mean?

  2. Women and men are different physiologically and psychologically. Men and women are EQUALLY human. That is about as basic as I can make it. The continued attempt to portray women as claiming they are the SAME as men is old and tired already. Women seek equal opportunity, equal respect, to be seen and treated as equally human in all things, women are not seeking “sameness”. Get it?

    Why is it that the numbers of women who are being cyber stalked and harassed is so much larger than men, in the article that Jill, upstream and Elaine downstream, posted here? If it is excused as the nature of men, that is a poor excuse. Abusers don’t get a pass.

  3. davidm,

    Do you think that it’s part of most men’s nature to bully and harass women and treat and talk about them as if they are little more than sex objects?

  4. Assaulting upon the web isn’t only a race, sex, age discriminatory practice.

    It is an issue of bullying by indy’s and mobs; usually with bad faith agendas.

    Absolutism (classifying issues and persons in an “ipso facto” – suit the desired results – fashion) serves no good purpose. The professor is doing what she desires to do, no more and no less.

    Complaints are allegations; and merits are issues of trial.

    It doesn’t matter how much evidence you have, what you can prove (and of this I’m an expert – armed with confessions); it only matters how the court conducts itself – and such is subject to many dynamics.

    This guy “dybbuk” – no matter what his “problems” are – is an out of control person acting in extreme bad faith. He must be arrested from his behavior – lest it be encouraged and spread.

    I’m leaving the subject alone now;
    but i wish we would all ask ourselves what is the point!

    What do you want to prove?

  5. skip,
    The charter schools have failed on their own without any regulatory help from either side of the aisle. They have failed even though they can pick and choose who their students are, which the public schools cannot do.
    chivalry isn’t dead, it just can no longer be used as an excuse for demeaning and sexist comments and actions.

    1. rafflaw, – They cannot have failed any worse that public education. Funny how some charter schools have very good rating. You wrote “Charter Schools have failed on their owned without any regulatory help from either side of the aisle.”

      That is the typical misleading nonsense out of you. I’m sure that their are some pretty crappy Charter Schools, but there are some pretty crappy Public Schools as well. There are also some pretty good Public and Charter Schools.

      Two: There is a Department of Education at all three levels of government, Federal, State and County. If they are not providing regulatory oversight, what in the heck are the doing?

      Is that really what you meant to say?

    2. rafflaw wrote: “The charter schools have failed on their own without any regulatory help from either side of the aisle. They have failed even though they can pick and choose who their students are, which the public schools cannot do.”

      Why do you say charter schools have failed? It seems strange to me that you speak of regulatory help not being involved when their entire existence is basically using federal regulation to let failing students get out of failing schools.

      I appreciate magnet schools here in Florida. Two of my high school children chose to apply to one in another district. They were required to be interviewed before the school accepted them. This school has programs in art, music, and drama that provide a much better educational experience. My children love school much more than they did before. It has made me a believer in school choice.

  6. Not all males are predators. Many are respectful of women. They don’t excuse the bullying of women by men to be typical of man’s nature.

    1. Elaine M wrote: “Not all males are predators.”

      Many times I have seen you use this exception fallacy to be dismissive of the point of another person. Statistics address a population of data that often has overlap with another population of data that is being considered. For example, I can say that men are taller than women. This is an assumed generality based upon sampling data and finding that on the average, men are taller than women. Can you find a male who is shorter than a woman? Yes. But that does not dismiss the generalized statement that men are taller than women.

      I do not see the statement that men are predators as being an excuse of bullying. It is presenting a rational observation that explains statistics from a perspective of nature instead of from the idea that an injustice exists based upon the fallacious notion that men and women are equal.

      The bullying is still wrong. We just expect based upon nature that a man is more likely to be a bully than a woman, and this happens because of their biological nature, not because of deficient anti-discrimination laws or because of the failure of feminism to get their message out there.

    2. A male colleague, who has a habit of corresponding with authors of articles that he reads, once complained to me that female journalists never replied, but more than half of the males always did. Getting ignored, after spending maybe half an hour composing an email that went nowhere, made him mad enough to send flame mail to both genders ignoring him. It was rare for a male to respond to his flame mail, however, more than half of the females always did — and never to apologize for ignoring him but instead to go on the offensive. “Don’t publish your email address if you’re going to ignore me,” he said. People make their own beds.

  7. hskiprob

    Elaine M. – Now you have some sort of idea, how disheartening it is, to have a group of bloggers use all sort of nefarious means to discredit some ones or others social ideology. In that situation, I didn’t see you sticking up for the other side.


    Were you attacked by anonymous individuals on a number of different sites? Did they objectify and make sexist comments about you? What were the nefarious means that they used to discredit you?

  8. Homo Sapiens have evolved over billions of years. Laws, politics, political correctness, will not change a visceral characteristic of homo sapiens. Males in our species are the predators. It manifests itself in many dark ways. Cyberbullying is one of the more benign manifestations of this predatory instinct. It is wrong. But, in comparison to abusers of woman and children, serial rapists, serial killers, child rapists, etc. it is a much lower priority. So, if the point is that men are more predatory. Men are more aggressive. Men commit more crimes[a lot more, but the gap is closing] well then..DUH!

  9. Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet
    By Amanda Hess
    January 06, 2014

    “Ignore the barrage of violent threats and harassing messages that confront you online every day.” That’s what women are told. But these relentless messages are an assault on women’s careers, their psychological bandwidth, and their freedom to live online. We have been thinking about Internet harassment all wrong…

    A woman doesn’t even need to occupy a professional writing perch at a prominent platform to become a target. According to a 2005 report by the Pew Research Center, which has been tracking the online lives of Americans for more than a decade, women and men have been logging on in equal numbers since 2000, but the vilest communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women. We are more likely to report being stalked and harassed on the Internet—of the 3,787 people who reported harassing incidents from 2000 to 2012 to the volunteer organization Working to Halt Online Abuse, 72.5 percent were female. Sometimes, the abuse can get physical: A Pew survey reported that five percent of women who used the Internet said “something happened online” that led them into “physical danger.” And it starts young: Teenage girls are significantly more likely to be cyberbullied than boys. Just appearing as a woman online, it seems, can be enough to inspire abuse. In 2006, researchers from the University of Maryland set up a bunch of fake online accounts and then dispatched them into chat rooms. Accounts with feminine usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages a day. Masculine names received 3.7.

    1. Elaine M. – Now you have some sort of idea, how disheartening it is, to have a group of bloggers use all sort of nefarious means to discredit some ones or others social ideology. In that situation, I didn’t see you sticking up for the other side.

      As long as I have the opportunity to point out their tactics and argue the merits of my position, I do not see a potential means of stopping such activities unless the blog master is willing to look and arbitrate the matter. To me getting kicked off the site is the only real and best method but that would require a very honest blog administrator.

      Believe it or not I got kicked off the local libertarian site, for arguing valid points. They said I was disrupting the blog. A group that supposedly supports free speech and protection of individual rights. Go figure.

      I was arguing the merits of using political activism vs. judicial activism, favoring judicial as the only real means of obtaining significant socio-economic change. The Libertarian Party has now been in about ten Presidential elections and the only change I can remember, is influencing the use of Charter Schools, during the 1992 elections. Of course the right wing Republicans tried to throw parochial schools into the mix, causing the constitutional issue of the 1st amendment breech and the Dems threw in various regulatory features which many believe limited the schools ability to improve, so the real benefits of charter schools has not been realized.

    2. Elaine M wrote: “…the vilest communications are still disproportionately lobbed at women. We are more likely to report being stalked and harassed on the Internet…”

      I don’t doubt these statistics in the least. When are you going to admit that men and women are different from each other? Just look at the disproportionately higher ratio of men to women in prison. No kind of law is going to change human nature. You can try to pass laws to make the equal amount of men and women in prison, but it will not work because such laws are fighting nature. This is why I object to anti-discrimination laws that use gender equality as their basis. These laws are contrary to natural law.

      The feminists have argued for years that they are being held back by men and that there is some kind of injustice going on. They ASSUME without evidence that men and women are basically the same. I can readily agree to let women choose to step up to the plate in all areas of life, but when they enter a fight with a man and get a bloody nose because of that stepping up, they are expected to do the same thing any self respecting man is expected to do. That is not go home whining to your mother, or go to government to act as your surrogate mom, but clean yourself up and pick your fights a little better next time. After you clean yourself up, take some boxing or martial arts lessons so that the next time you step up to a fight, maybe you will win and send your opponent home with a bloody nose. This is the MALE mentality. You can try to make laws to make this male mentality illegal, but the nature of the male is still driving him toward this perspective. Law should be in accordance with nature and not contrary to it.

      The one thing I agree about is the concept of civility in all of this. The same good effect of law can be realized without resorting to sexism and other forms of anti-discrimination which have a faulty foundation of gender equality. Men and women should learn to temper their speech and actions in a way that leads to civility. Part of that is men realizing how they need to be especially courteous and respectful toward women, above and beyond the way they treat other men. At one time we magnified this concept as chivalry. Women at one time loved chivalry. The feminists have robbed us of this concept.

  10. Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports

    ABA Journal on Professor Leong’s complaint
    Here; an excerpt:

    “James Grogan, chief counsel for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, told the ABA Journal that state supreme court rules bar him from confirming or denying that a probe request was filed. Speaking generally, he said Illinois and a few other jurisdictions have initiated cyberstalking investigations of lawyers in the past.”

    It’s been curious to see dybbuk’s various defenders (including some posting at the ABA site) claim that Professor Leong’s allegations aren’t accurate, yet they are all documented with screen shots of the postings in the complaint. And it appears to be true, and easily verifiable with search engines, that dybbuk’s most extended ridicule and abuse of tenure-track law faculty, in particular of their scholarship, has been directed at seven individuals, two minority men, and five women, three of them also minorities (this includes Prof. Leong). Dybbuk has, to be sure, occasionally delivered passing insults aimed at white men (even me, but no surprise there!), but none of them that I have seen (and I have seen a lot) have been subjected to the extended cyber-harassment dybbuk visited on these others, all of whom are women and/or minorities, as Professor Leong claimed. Why the scholarship of female and minority law faculty warrants special abuse by this dybbuk character is a question that perhaps the Bar investigation, if there is one, will illuminate. It could simply be coincidental, and not a matter of gendered or racial animus. Or perhaps it will turn out that he is more of an equal opportunity harasser of law professors than the evidence so far suggests?

    In any case, it’s good to know that the Illinois Bar does sometimes investigate these kinds of cases.

  11. Lawyer Chuck, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except for your own obituary.” As others have said, this woman had almost no traffic prior to creating this drama. The nastiest politics are often intramural college professor politics. She is just tapping into that. It might work for a short period. But fear and anger only motivate in the short run, it’s negative energy and runs out of gas quickly.

  12. annie,

    Some of us are castigated/criticized/called elitists/accused of having chips on our shoulders because we dare disagree with the views of a certain individual who comments frequently on this blog.

  13. Elaine, I am actually blown away by what I’ve read on this thread. It appears that women should not become complacent and think we have made great strides and can rest now. I think there is still much work to be done.

  14. What I’ve been seeing is a class of men who have become “victims”. Men who feel threatened by feminists and cry like little boys that feminists have taken something from them. Men who don’t have anything worth stealing by any feminist. Jonolon, I don’t know you, but you remind me of such a man. When a woman is truly victimized by a man who systematically attempts to destroy her career such as Leong, who defends herself, she becomes the aggressor in the upside land of male victimology.

  15. nick,

    FYI: Jonolan isn’t new to the Turley blog. In fact, jonolan has been around longer than I have. Check out the comments on the following posts:


    It appears that you have taken it upon yourself on many occasions to warn newcomers about some of the “elitists” and others you dislike that they may encounter on Jonathan’s blog. Has our host asked to take on that responsibility?

  16. jonolan, This is some advice. But, I realize advice can be like buttholes, everyone’s got one and nobody wants to hear about it. But, you’re new and may not know some history here. We just came through a shit storm. Some folks stormed off, some stayed and have chips on their shoulders. Because of the shit storm, Mr. Turley laid down the law. I believe it righteous, others disagree. Nonetheless, it is the law no matter anyone’s individual thoughts. Being an iconoclast, and new, some folks would love to see you banned for breaking these rules, knowing you may be an easy target. All that said, I think you have been within the rules to date. But, be wary. I and others want a full range of views. Some do not and would love to see a “misogynist” scalp on their belt. Don’t end up on anyone’s belt, brother.

  17. jonolan,

    Disparagement? Women are often disparaged for not being more like men. What do you mean when you say that if women want to function “as equal to men” then they have to be equal to men? In what ways do you think that men are superior to women? How do you recommend we women change our ways? How do you define the word feminist?

  18. Annie,

    If you think I’m a misogynist I can’t change that. Your definitions of such and, apparently, most everything else involving gender are too different to be is our views on appropriate responses to things.


    You say it with the normal sarcasm and disparagement of normative behavior Americans have come to expect from Feminists, but what you just wrote is actually 100% correct. If women want to function as equal to men then they have to be equal to men.


    As I doubt that either of you would hold the same opinion if the genders were reversed, your opinions have little or no prima facie validity. In specific point of fact if a supposedly aggrieved man tracked down a woman who offended him online and made contact with her you’d likely be calling for criminal charges against him.

    You can’t have it both ways. Be women or be men. One or the other. Or…except that one standard – which will need shifting – needs to apply to both.

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