Archaeologist accused of misconduct seeks to force reporter to name victims and witnesses


Promise made, promise broken

Last June, University of California, Santa Barbara archaeologist Danielle Kurin sued me for defamation for a series of reports I had published (and continue to publish) on a number of allegations of misconduct on her part. The allegations include a Title IX finding against her in 2016 that she retaliated against students who reported her then partner and later husband for sexual harassment at Kurin's field sites in Peru; a 2018 investigation of her and her then husband by the Institute for Field Research (IFR) which led to the IFR severing all ties with her and her archaeological field school; and abuse and bullying of students in her UCSB classes beginning as early as 2014, the first year Kurin began a tenure track position at the university.

My reporting was based on victims, survivors, witnesses, and other sources who provided direct testimony to the facts I wrote about. I never relied, nor have I ever relied in my 42 years as a journalist, on rumors or second hand information for my reporting. And yet a lot of my sources asked not to be identified, for a number of reasons. Some feared direct retaliation from Kurin, given that she had been found to have done just that in the 2016 Title IX. Others feared being sued by Kurin, given that she had sued the University of California after UCSB placed her on a three year administrative leave; Kurin unsuccessfully sought a promotion during the time that she was being disciplined. And Kurin's lawsuit against me, in which she seeks $10 million in direct damages and an unspecified amount of punitive damages, has also convinced victims of, and witnesses to, her alleged misconduct that they might be next in the legal firing line if they speak out openly.

Apparently realizing the sensitivity of demanding the identities of vulnerable students and members of her own archaeological community, Kurin and her attorney made the promise you see in the screenshot above of a now deleted Tweet: That they would never seek the names of my sources. That was early in the lawsuit, perhaps when Kurin--who is currently up for tenure at UCSB--and her attorney realized that a hostile act against the colleagues she is counting on to give her a permanent position was not a good idea. Since then, however, the weakness of Kurin's case against me has become increasingly clear to observers, especially as I have continued to publish the results of my reporting--exactly what the lawsuit was designed to prevent.

To make matters worse for Kurin's case, rather than intimidating survivors and other witnesses, the lawsuit has actually inspired and encouraged individuals to step forward and speak out about her alleged misconduct. In that sense, the demand for the names of my sources should be seen as a desperation move by someone who has badly miscalculated by filing a frivolous lawsuit.

However, the demand by Kurin and her attorney is going nowhere, and I believe they know that. Reporters have a proud and proven tradition of refusing to name confidential sources without their explicit permission, and journalists will go to jail before they will do so, even if ordered by a court. I have assured, and continue to assure, all of my sources that I will not name them under any circumstances--no matter what the personal cost to me.

In this lawsuit, which is a civil rather than a criminal case, nothing quite as dramatic as my being jailed for contempt of court is likely to happen. Rather, Kurin and her attorney could ask the judge to penalize me in some ways if I refuse to name sources, assuming that the judge agrees they should indeed be named. My legal team will be working hard on that issue.

The demand for my sources comes in what is called the discovery phase of the lawsuit, where both sides seek to gather evidence--through documents, depositions of witnesses, and so forth--that they could use at trial (discovery also involves learning the evidence that the opposite side might use at trail as well.) This evidence could also be used if either side requests a summary judgement from the court, ie, to have the case thrown out before it even gets to trial.

To be sure, my attorneys and I have made our own requests for documents, which we consider relevant to the case. I am sure that Kurin and her lawyer are no happier about our requests than we are about theirs. For example, we have asked Kurin to provide all communications between her and her now ex-husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque, that relate to issues in the case such as allegations of sexual assault and harassment by Gomez and investigations of those allegations; we have asked for communications related to the status of their relationship, which is an important issue of contention in the lawsuit; and documents in Kurin's possession regarding the investigations of her conduct by UCSB and IFR. We have also asked for documents related to Kurin's tenure bid, since that too is a major issue in the lawsuit--Kurin claims that her career was going very well until I came along and began reporting what she considers false claims about her.

Kurin, on the other hand, has asked for "all documents and or communications" I used in my reporting, which obviously means my sources (Kurin and her attorney have not suggested that we could redact the names, although that would not help; the individuals would still be identifiable from the context of my interviews and notes about them.)

Kurin and her attorney have also asked for all documents and communications concerning individuals who follow me on social media, especially Twitter, many of whom are sources for my reporting and thus would be identified; all drafts of an article I wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review last year about my #MeToo reporting; Kurin is also asking for all of my teaching evaluations at the three universities where I have taught journalism since 2008, and other documents related to my employment at those institutions, including all of the syllabi for the many courses I taught. 

Finally, Kurin is asking for all records "relating to any allegation that you engaged in bullying, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or any other form of misconduct in the workplace or in academia in the last 20 years." (There are none.)

And since Kurin clearly intends to take all of my assets if she wins the lawsuit, she and her attorney are also asking for all of my financial details, including about the house that my wife and I own near New York City.

In other words, Kurin and her attorney are engaged in a wholesale attempt at intimidation and harassment, not just against this reporter, but against all of my sources and everyone who has helped me. This we will fight with every legal means at our disposal.

As I said above, Kurin and her attorney contend that she was sailing on her way to permanent tenure at UCSB before I supposedly defamed her. Yet they have not commented on why my reporting has been so widely believed and accepted as valid within the archaeological and broader scientific communities. It is not up to me whether Kurin gets tenure or not, but she may be in for a rude awakening about the consequences that filing this lawsuit might lead to.

Meanwhile, if you agree that journalists should be free to report the truth as they find it, and that survivors of abuse should be free to tell their stories free of retaliation and intimidation, please consider donating to my legal defense fund on GoFundMe. Although I am ably represented by a pro bono team from the large law firm BakerHostetler, I am still responsible for paying for legal expenses such as court reporters for the numerous depositions of witnesses we plan to take. Thank you very much.

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Anonymous said…

And if that’s not enough, judging from tweets and comments in the last few days there’s a new story developing about another former student of hers, Ricky Nelson. Only a few days before the harassment incident with her husband in July 2018, Kurin and Ricky had a major argument and she kicked him out of the project’s house in Peru. At the time Ricky was a student at Arizona State University and was planning to pursue an archeological career on the Inca. He tragically passed away on August 30 of this year, at the very young age of 29.
Michael Balter said…
Yes, the story of Ricky Nelson needs to be told, and it will be.
Anonymous said…
I am glad Ricky’s story will be told. What a tragic story. He was the underdog that almost made it... As with Franki, it shows how dark things can get when dishonest bullying and mobbing behavior and retaliation are involved. This isn’t “par for the course” in academia as some commenters have sneered. It can be a life or death situation.
Anonymous said…
Her behavior is all so unbelievable and makes me want to puke. It also makes me want to donate to your fundraiser and I will do so as soon as I get my paycheck. Let’s expose all her lies.
Anonymous said…
Danielle is a piece of work, and a (excuse my language) an effing big baby and a narcissist. Likely learnt at a young age how to bully. If her career was right on track she wouldn’t be on leave (did Dad pull strings so she could keep it as an unproven assist-prof .. there’s a ‘sponsor’ somewhere protecting her.

Can I contact you on twitter with some benign fun facts (love your cats) so they can her legal team can comb through!

She’s embarrassing herself even more and showcasing just how rotten she can be.
Michael Balter said…
Anyone should feel free to contact me privately. Confidentiality guaranteed.
Anonymous said…
I guess I am one of those “confidential sources” that Kurin and lawyer are now after. Knowing her I also expected something like this to happen, so tried to keep my identity as veiled as possible. Even though I may fear retribution, this vile comportment only enforces the general impression that myself and colleagues are doing the right thing.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Balter (and the good people at BakerHostetler) for continuing to stand by victims and for willing to bear the brunt of her onslaught. Until our institutions learn how to properly deal with them bad apples, I continue to put my trust—and donations—with him.
Anonymous said…
This almost made me choke on my pistachios:
“Kurin is asking for all records "relating to any allegation that you engaged in bullying, sexual abuse, sexual assault, or any other form of misconduct in the workplace or in academia in the last 20 years." (There are none.)”
Nothing but pure and classic DARVO!
Or for a more academic perspective:
Anonymous said…
Interesting that Scher's twitter account (@ScherDave) has now evaporated into thin air. Did he finally realize he twitted one lie too many?
Anonymous said…
All those vanishing accounts … must be the smell of depositions in the air. Lately Ran Boytner deleted his professional profiles on LinkedIn and where he was still listed as IFR director. Very drastic step, instead of simply removing or changing affiliations. Considering the lies he told colleagues about Kurin’s title ix cases, I bet you it all has to do with mitigating legal exposure.
It may be worthwhile to take screen shots of posts/accounts belonging to others who are implicated, just in case.
Anonymous said…
Scher's twitter handle @ScherDave has now been taken over by "Farmer Dave & the Wizards of the West," a magical music group from Southern California.
Even though this Dave Scher seems to be as delusional as Kurin's lawyer, at least he uses his talents to create soothing psychedelic music.
Anonymous said…
It really says something when an undergrad (myself) was SERIOUSLY discouraged from participating in that IFR field school. The person who told me not to is a Peruvian archaeologist and said "no good things come from that field school."
I believe the victims. Kurin needs to be held responsible. There are many archaeologists I work with now that agree, even my thesis advisor cringes at hearing her name.