Attorneys for #MeToo reporter, citing New York's new anti-SLAPP law, ask federal judge to consider motion for summary judgment

(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.

Docket Text:

ORDER deferring ruling on [23] 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:

Post a Comment


Anonymous said…
Michael- I sincerely hope this summary judgment will pass since I do not wish this preposterous lawsuit to continue distracting you from what you do best, which is essentially putting more academic perpetrators under the spotlight. But, I must admit that I am a very disappointed with the suggestion that “no further discovery is necessary.” I can assure you that many colleagues were waiting to see what else that process may reveal, and in particular as it pertains to the negligence UCSB, UCLA and IFR demonstrated when (mis)handling Kurin’s long history of harassment enabling, bullying and intimidation. I am equally certain that other less honorable colleagues will heave a sigh of relief if you were to stop right now digging in their shadowy records. My opinion is that only by exposing this systemic and long-lasting institutional failure for what it was, will we be able to protect our students from similar abuses in the future.
Michael Balter said…
To the previous commenter: I appreciate your concerns here, but I have to go with my attorneys' feeling that winning the lawsuit is the highest priority. Kurin is trying to take away the house that my wife and I worked all our lives to be able to buy, and the daily stresses of the lawsuit on me and my family are considerable (although I will never give in, no matter what.) There are also great stresses on survivors and other witnesses who are bravely taking risks to give their testimony.

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.
Anonymous said…
Even if Danielle Kurin will not end up getting tenure, this will only solve one symptom rather than cure the real disease. She and Emanuel Gomez were able to do what they did, and as long as they did it, only because so many of their enablers have turned two blind eyes. For those who care about such matters, I strongly recommend following Balter’s similar reports (and hundreds upon hundreds of comments) on the Australian scandals. Although it is not always easy to untangle the complexity of the arguments for a US—based academic such as myself, it is clear that the real power of this blog in not with unmasking problematic individuals but rather the corrupt structures that created and nurtured them. This is why, so far, this blog has had more impact on our community than any Title IX or other internal investigation can ever hope to achieve.
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.
Anonymous said…
I enjoy comparing Kurin to Palin. At least Palin was in favor of hunting down predators.
Anonymous said…
Not all academic sanctions need to result in dismissal. Even if this stops here, in this day and age reputation is everything. I for one have learned enough to advise students to steer clear from certain faculty, certain anth departments, and certain field school institutes. These people should all count themselves lucky that the SAA is virtual this year.
Anonymous said…
It is clear that structural biases enable these awful gender and power politics, and have done so for decades. The specifics need rooting out and spotlighting by each and every decent human being and academic in each and every such department. It cannot be the job of a solitary, obsessed journalist to uncover this misbehavior. We are a part of the problem unless part of the solution - to reveal, to disallow, to disapprove.

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....
Michael Balter said…
Thanks to the last commenter, and I do think I will keep the house--Danielle Kurin's lawsuit has no merit whatsoever, which is exactly why we have asked for early judgment on it.

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.

Anonymous said…
Michael (and others)- I am the one who wrote that first comment yesterday. Reading now your response, and those following comments, I feel I need to apologize. It is obviously the responsibility of the academic community to change the culture, not yours. And I definitely never meant for you to risk or sacrifice your house for our sake. I think I was simply carried away by the success of your blog in highlighting the rampant #MeToo problems in archaeology and academia in general. I guess I have also seen too many Title IX investigations that end up protecting the university or the abusers instead of the survivors, know too many Deans and department members who ignore their colleagues’ transgressions or —even worse—students’ pleas for help, and read too many academic studies that courteously recommend that institutional leadership “should disincentivize contemptuous and disrespectful conduct.” In the last several months I’ve also witnessed with much horror way too many colleagues who all but forgot their scientific training to weigh the evidence carefully, and are only too eager to jump on social media mob wagons and shoot down any real attempts to solve the problem.
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.
Michael Balter said…
Dear previous commenter,

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.