|(International Commission of Jurists)|
Last June, Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, sued me for defamation for my reporting on her documented misconduct.
Today, my attorneys have written to the federal judge overseeing the case, asking him to allow us to file an early motion for summary judgment--in other words, a motion that, if granted, would dismiss the case. Normally a motion for summary judgment would come after both sides of the litigation had completed legal discovery, the process by which litigants gather evidence--through depositions, document productions, and other means--that might help them win their cases. However, last November, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law new "anti-SLAPP" legislation, which provides much stronger protections for those sued for defamation in situations where the public interest is involved. "SLAPP" stands for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation," an awkwardly worded phrase that simply means a lawsuit designed to shut someone up who is speaking publicly.
As my lawyers argue in their letter to the judge (see below), Kurin's litigation against me is, in essence, a SLAPP suit. The new legislation in New York (the state I reside in) is designed to protect journalists like me, and others exercising their First Amendment rights.
As my attorneys point out, New York's anti-SLAPP legislation has already been successfully invoked in federal court by the New York Times in its defense against a defamation suit filed by Sarah Palin. The coming months and years are sure to see numerous tests of the new law's protections, which will be very welcome to journalists and anyone else speaking out about social and political issues.
The full text of our letter to Judge Vincent Briccetti of the Southern District of New York is here.
Update Jan 5, 2020: The judge has given Kurin's lawyers seven days to respond to our letter.
ORDER deferring ruling on  Letter Motion for Conference: By 1/12/21, plaintiff shall file a response to defendant's letter-motion. (HEREBY ORDERED by Judge Vincent L. Briccetti)(Text Only Order)
Update Jan 8: For those who like to learn on YouTube, John Oliver on SLAPP:
I think colleagues in academia need to find other ways to get at the kind of information they seek to create a more just institutional culture, other than lawsuits against the journalists who have done their best to expose abuses.
Having said that, I completely agree with Balter on this one. It is our sole responsibility to fix the culture, not his. I wish him and his family many more years in their hard-earned house.
Legal discovery cannot be the proctor of morality -- that's like claiming misbehavior isn't misbehavior unless it's caught. Shame on us all - go flip over your own rocks in your own department. Let Balter keep his house....
As for being solitary and obsessed: One colleague refers to me often as "anthropology's #MeToo reporter" and she doesn't mean it as a compliment. And I do admit to being zealous about pursuing my reporting. But let's look at the major cases I have worked on and see how they originated:
Brian Richmond, AMNH -- a survivor of sexual assault had been lookin for a way to tell her story for at least a year. I was the first reporter who talked to her.
Ron Clarke, Wits -- Two victims of his harassment, several years apart, approached me with their stories.
David Lordkipanidze, Georgian National Museum -- A survivor of sexual assault publicly accused him, saying there were other survivors as well. I began to investigate and received very significant cooperation from the anthropology community.
Jean-Jacques Hublin, Max Planck -- Someone he sexually harassed told me her story but I did not write about it at the time. When another student accused him of seducing an misleading her, I began to investigate.
David Yesner, U of Alaska -- colleagues approached me about this story but asked me to hold my fire pending internal processes. Finally an Anchorage station broke the story. I then wrote about it in more detail. When he showed up at an archaeology meeting, some of his victims asked me to help them.
Deanna Grimstead, OSU -- grad students who had been harassed by her, and their friends, came to me because OSU was doing nothing about it.
Randall White, NYU -- I had known about his abuses for years, but never investigated. Finally colleagues came to me when he was about to retire and said he should not be allowed to do so without being held accountable in some public way.
Michael Westaway, now at U of Queensland -- Australian colleagues came to me and asked me to investigate.
Alan Cooper, U of Adelaide ancient DNA -- same as with Westaway.
The TAMU abusers -- colleagues came to me and said enough was enough, please look into it.
Richard Martin, U of Queensland -- survivors came to me because the university was trying to cover up sexual harassment, sometimes severe.
Danielle Kurin -- archaeologists came to me and asked me to investigate.
Ran Boytner -- his abuses came out during the Kurin investigation.
Luis Jaime Castillo Butters -- a group of survivors came to me and asked me to investigate.
This is hardly the profile of an obsessed "internet vigilante," as I am sometimes called. It's the profile of a reporter trying to cover the beat he fell into five years ago, but with no regrets.
As should be obvious from the above, my reporting has been all about the survivors. The investigations involved many of anthropology and archaeology's leading figures and have stirred things up considerably, too much for the taste of some people. I have not "centered" myself, but those who want to stop my reporting have done so.
Am I proud of what I have accomplished? Sure, I have helped make a difference. We should all be so lucky.
So I agree, the responsibility and accountability is in our hands. In fact, I know of others who are already rising to the challenge and, following up on what was revealed in this blog, continue their own investigations and dissemination, formally or not. “Discovery” is not limited to legal procedures, and many of us have access to institutional records that can help expose those bad apples for what they truly are and start heal the system. The implications of this undertaking will not end with ‘Kurin vs. Balter’, but will reverberate far and wide for years to come.
Much as I appreciate it, there is really no need for you to apologize. I and many others share your frustration that it takes lawsuits and journalistic investigations to get at the truth about abuses and the institutional context for them, and it is completely legitimate for legal discovery—especially in a lawsuit like this one that deals with matters of public concern—to play a role in uncovering the truth.
But if we could get summary judgement in the case based on the anti-SLAPP law, that alone would be a big victory not only for this kind of investigative journalism but also for the rights of survivors to tell their stories without having to fear retaliatory lawsuits. I think most everyone in the archaeology community realizes the stakes here, as you have pointed out very well.
It is very heartening to hear about the efforts by members of this community to do discovery and investigations of their own, that is so important.
As for Twitter mobbing and the like: That has been a very distasteful and destructive aspect of this, and it goes to the culture of anthropology and other academic fields that we are trying to change. It’s no secret to anyone here that certain individuals in anthropology have openly campaigned against my reporting, and I have consistently given my viewpoint on why that is and the role that falsehoods about my reporting play in that. These same individuals are now exploiting the NASW’s carefully constructed bylaws against harassment to try to throw a #MeToo reporter out of the organization, AND at the same time leaking information to the Kurin camp to help with her lawsuit. This is easily provable and I will have a lot more to say about it soon. I am writing NASW officials shortly to ask that the bogus complaint against me be dropped immediately.
Thanks to all for your continuing support for this kind of reporting, and for me personally, it means the world.