The Kurin v. Balter lawsuit is over, with a settlement between the parties.

Thirteen months after University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) archaeologist Danielle Kurin sued me in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of NY for allegedly defaming her, the lawsuit has been dismissed by the federal judge in charge of the case. Kurin and I have agreed to a settlement of the lawsuit, one which involves some give and take as I will explain in a moment. Often, such legal settlements are kept confidential, but this one is not. While I will not actually publish the settlement agreement, I am free to discuss what is in it. Most importantly, I think that the agreement safeguards both freedom of the press and the rights of victims and survivors to tell their stories.

None of my reporting about Danielle Kurin will be deleted, retracted, corrected, revised, or clarified in any way. What I wrote about her stands and will remain published and available as it is. From my perspective, this is a just outcome, as I stand by all of my reporting, which has been supported by the thousands of pages of discovery documents obtained during the lawsuit, from UCSB and other sources. Most of the documents remain under a court protective order and cannot be revealed--with one critical exception.

In settling the case, Danielle Kurin and I made a trade, in which each of us gave up something we wanted. For her part, Kurin (and UCSB) agreed to lift the protective order on a document I consider to be the most important of all the thousands of pages we received, the Letter of Censure in which UCSB formally charged and reprimanded Kurin for her misconduct in 2015/2016.

For my part, I have agreed not to write or report about Kurin ever again after the publication of this final blog post. To some, it may seem odd that after fighting for 13 months for my First Amendment rights to do just that, I would now give them up voluntarily. I will explain the calculations I made in doing this below. But first, I think it is important for readers to see and understand the Letter of Censure, which was part of Kurin's academic personnel file for three years and is published here for the first time.

The Letter of Censure

In what follows, I will avoid providing links to my previous posts to avoid republishing them, in keeping with a non-disparagement clause in the settlement agreement (that clause applies to both me and Kurin.) However, everything is on the blog, and readers can find specific reports by searching or scrolling for them.

As I previously reported and is now a matter of public record, in June 2016 Kurin and her partner and later husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque, were found to have committed misconduct in a Title IX investigation conducted by UCSB. Gomez was found to have sexually harassed students at a 2015 archaeology field school in Peru led by Kurin, and Kurin was found to have retaliated against a student who filed a Title IX complaint. The inquiry included interviews with witnesses who described to investigators acts by Kurin which could have been construed as retaliation and intimidation against others as well.

(Kurin married Gomez in February 2016, while the Title IX investigation was ongoing; she divorced him in 2019, final decree effective December 1 of that year.)

In her First Amended Complaint against me filed in federal court, Kurin described these events as follows:

52. During the course of its investigation, UCSB became aware of communications Kurin had with participants who had been on the trip to Peru. UCSB then investigated Kurin’s interactions with the individuals.

53. Between 2016 and 2018, Kurin engaged in the UCSB investigatory and disciplinary process, and utilizing the proper forums available to her as a professor, she amicably settled the matter with UCSB in March 2018. Neither UCSB nor any other entity found Kurin guilty or liable for any misconduct.

It is true that Kurin reached a settlement with the university that allowed her to remain employed there, but put her on a three year administrative leave that expired in fall 2019 when she returned to teaching (these statements are based on my prior reporting and not the UCSB protected documents.) But the last sentence of this excerpt, that UCSB did not find Kurin "guilty or liable for any misconduct"--central to her defamation charges against me--must be evaluated in light of the Letter of Censure.

The Title IX was just the first step in Kurin's disciplinary process, as the Letter of Censure reveals (with apologies for the poor reproduction.)

The Letter of Censure makes clear that the findings of the Title IX investigation were taken up by the Charges Committee of the UCSB Academic Senate, the next step in the disciplinary process. The Charges Committee not only found that Kurin had retaliated against the Title IX complainant, but also engaged in "acts of harassment and threats of retaliation" against other students, including presumably other witnesses (these acts are documented in the Title IX findings).

During the three years that Kurin was on administrative leave, the reasons for her absence were kept secret from most other members of her anthropology department, except for the department chairs. As I reported previously, over several years, Kurin appeared to have misled colleagues about what had happened. For example, in a June 2020 department meeting at which Kurin announced to her colleagues that she had filed this lawsuit against me, she told them that the Title IX proceeding was wrong and unfair. Her signature on the 2018 Letter of Censure, taking formal responsibility for her actions, puts new perspective on her comments at that meeting.

I will have more to say about this process shortly.

Why have I given up my First Amendment rights to continue to report about Danielle Kurin?

As I wrote above, it may seem odd for a journalist who has fought for freedom of the press to then give up certain First Amendment rights. I feel that I owe readers an explanation for my thought processes, although I suspect that some will have already guessed what they were.

1. The Letter of Censure is a critical piece of evidence, not only for the lawsuit but also for revealing the truth about the events I wrote about for more than a year. Under the court's protective order, I was not entitled to publish it. Had I settled the lawsuit in such a way as to preserve my rights to continue reporting about Kurin, as I could have done--for example, on whether or not she gets tenure from the university, which has not yet been announced as of this writing--I would have sacrificed the revelation of this key document.

2. I have already reported in great detail about Danielle Kurin and others associated with her, including her former husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque. If Kurin does something newsworthy in the future, the First Amendment rights of all other reporters in the world remain preserved.

3. On a more personal note, I feel that I have already reported and written enough about Danielle Kurin. Her filing of this lawsuit made it necessary to say a great deal more over the past 13 months, especially as new information came to light. I know that my friends and colleagues feel that I have done enough and should move on to other projects, as does my long suffering wife. I helped survivors tell their stories, which was always my job as a #MeToo reporter, and I am proud of that work.

Institutional failures: The role of UCSB.

In issuing a Letter of Censure to Danielle Kurin and putting her on administrative leave, the university actually invoked the least serious punishment available to it under its policies on Faculty Conduct and the Administration of Discipline. The most serious punishment, of course, would have been dismissal from the university.

In my personal opinion, UCSB might have been able to avoid getting to this stage had it acted earlier and decisively in matters concerning Danielle Kurin's conduct. As I reported earlier, in 2014 and 2015, at least two students in Kurin's osteology classes complained about her conduct.

And yet 2014 was Kurin's first year as tenure track faculty at UCSB. Had the university made it clear to Kurin that this kind of behavior was unacceptable and that it could have serious consequences if it continued--had the university provided Kurin with help for the stresses she was perhaps undergoing as a new faculty member--it's possible that the later misconduct, retaliation and harassment, could have been avoided.

It is also possible that the sexual assault allegedly committed by Gomez at Kurin's 2018 field school in Peru might never have happened.

In my view, UCSB, like so many other universities and institutions, was probably more concerned about its own reputation than the well-being of the students and its professor. I don't think I have to tell readers here that this is a consistent and endemic pattern that everyone who tries to fight abuses has run up against. The lack of transparency and the secrecy of disciplinary proceedings may be necessary in some cases to protect the privacy of students and others, but the end result is that misconduct is covered up and victims and survivors are often abandoned and isolated. I can assure everyone that survivors only come to reporters as a last resort, when all other avenues to justice and truth have been blocked.

While I cannot discuss what was in the thousands of pages that UCSB gave us, I can say that those documents strongly suggest that the university did not act responsibly in this case. Institutions need to do much better, because the end result of throwing survivors under the bus can be very serious.

Correcting the record.

When a lawsuit is settled, all of the documents filed with the court remain a public record under most circumstances. Those include Kurin's original pleadings in the case (Complaints), my responses to them, letters to the judge, protective orders, and so forth. So both Kurin and I will have to live with what we said about each other on the court docket, whether or not those statements were accurate.

The most comprehensive response to Kurin's allegations can be found in my First Amended Answer to the complaint, which goes over each of her many claims and responds to them in kind. Anyone wanting to know what this case was about in detail might consider reading it.

In letters to the judge and to the magistrate handling the lawsuit, Kurin and her legal team made statements that I consider to be demonstrably false. Most recently, they told the magistrate that I had been fired from the City College of New York (totally untrue), where I taught introduction to journalism during the 2019/2020 academic year; and that I was never a "professor" of journalism at any time (I was an adjunct professor at both Boston University and New York University.) 

Some of their letters to the Court also reference false complaints that had been brought against me by a small group of anthropologists to the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the key professional organization in my field which I belonged to for 35 years. I have previously corrected the record on the NASW allegations in prior posts on this blog, and I will continue to do so as time goes on.

Final thoughts, acknowledgments, and thanks.

I'd first like to say something about Danielle Kurin. I do not know if UCSB will give her tenure and allow her to continue to interact with students. Whatever happens, Kurin is in her late 30s and has most of her life ahead of her. And she has demonstrated certain talents, in particular her abilities as a teacher, which give hope that she might be able to turn away from her past conduct and do good in the world. Some commenters on earlier blog posts have said that they believe in redemption, and I do too.

But the evidence is crystal clear that, as Kurin acknowledged in writing when she signed the Letter of Censure, she engaged in conduct that fell below the university's standards for faculty conduct, and what should have been her own standards too. In my opinion, taking responsibility for her actions, not just in writing but in reality, is the only path forward for her.

The outcome of this lawsuit, which I consider very positive, would not have been possible without the steadfast representation, legal expertise, friendship, and support of my pro bono attorneys at BakerHostetler: Mark Bailen, Melissa Carvalho, Anat Maytal, Renee Knudsen, Tara Turner, and Madison Gaudreau. They obviously did not help me for the money, but for shared principles of justice, truth, and the First Amendment, and they will always have my gratitude and admiration. Their professionalism and loyalty to their clients has restored my faith in attorneys, which has sometimes been challenged over the years.

I also thank Paul Safier, of Ballard Spahr, who provided very important legal representation near the beginning of the case.

I thank the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which put me in contact with the BakerHostetler team after I realized that fighting this lawsuit pro se was not realistic, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, which provided me with a grant to my legal defense fund.

Speaking of the legal defense fund, I of course want to thank the nearly 200 donors who contributed to my GoFundMe page. Litigation is extremely expensive, and some were generous beyond belief and donated repeatedly. I salute them as friends in the good fight. These funds allowed me to get to this point of settlement and paid for the lawsuit's costs and expenses (but not legal fees.)

Special thanks to Thomas Jung, my cyber consultant, who provided invaluable help whenever it was needed.

To the survivors, witnesses, and other sources who helped with the reporting and later either stepped forward or answered the call to help with the lawsuit, my heartfelt thanks and gratitude. I did this for you.

To the friends and colleagues who supported me in so many ways, and are too many to name, I send love and the promise that if they are ever sued I will be right by their sides. Being sued can be interesting, but it is never fun, I can assure anyone who has not yet had the experience.

Finally to my wife, Catherine, who knows me better than anyone and who understands better than anyone why I fought this fight, and who I was doing it for. All my love.

This is my last blog post about Danielle Kurin, but it is not my last post about the #MeToo movement, nor about bullies and sexual predators. They can take no comfort whatsoever in the outcome of this case.

                                                                              -- 30 --

The Real Camille

Note: While I am not turning off comments for this blog post, I will be moderating them as usual. Please keep your remarks in the spirit of this blog post. I will not publish comments that defame or disparage Danielle Kurin, or myself, as per the agreement. So please keep your thoughts on the broader issues that were involved in this litigation or questions about the settlement itself. Thank you.

Update July 21: Now that readers of this blog post have had a few days to comment on it and discuss the basic issues, I am going to shut off comments. I think that doing so is in the spirit of the settlement agreement, even if the letter of the agreement might not require it. I hope that those following these events will be able to find other venues and avenues to discuss them, independent of any platform that I have provided. Thank you.


Post a Comment


Lee Rudolph said…
I assume (sadly) that the conditions which determine what those things are that you will not post or write about will, necessarily, be applied (by you) to things that we commenters might want to include in our comments here. In particular (unless I have misread, which is not impossible), we commenters will not be allowed to comment whenever the tenure decision is made (whichever way it goes), and will have to find out that decision elsewhere.

Congratulations on your settlement!
Michael Balter said…
To keep with the spirit and the letter of the settlement agreement, the comments section will not be usable as a place to post news about things that happen going forward. But as I said in the post, anyone else is free to discuss these matters in their own forums and venues. I can discuss more general issues, however, and the best thing to do is try to comment and I will moderate as need be. People can also contact me privately before posting here to see if a comment would qualify for posting.
Gale Bishop said…
Thank you taking this heat for the students who have been preyed upon at all schools. If they know, they will thank you for taking a beating on their behalf. This is an important battle and one which you have helped win. Thank you on behalf of the students!
Anonymous said…
This has been a long and painful process for so many people and I thank you for your tireless efforts to see that the truth prevails. You have been an invaluable ally of the #metoo movement. Thank you for speaking up for us and giving us a voice.
@TechPRGuy said…
Thank you for posting all of this, and explaining the suit, details and settlement. News readers benefit from this, rare, transparency, about the reporting process, and occasional lawsuits from story subjects. It’s important the public understands how journalism works at all levels.
Marnie said…
Many thanks, Michael, for your bravery, generosity, and toughness. Thanks also to your excellent legal team.

Looking forward to your future reporting.
Unknown said…
Just wanted to congratulate you on your fortitude through all this, and for caring about an issue that many neglect. Good luck with whatever you do next… make sure it’s something fun!
Anonymous said…
Someone should put together these contents into a book. The history should not be forgotten.
Anonymous said…
A tremendous victory to victims of academic misconduct, if only for the basic fact that the truth was finally exposed and the record is out there. I also consider this a major vindication to Balter. All other investigative journalists would have reported and moved on. This one stuck with the story longer than many of us expected, despite legal threats & relentless attacks from accomplices and spiteful academics who enabled the guilty and detracted attention from the suffering of those innocent. We could all benefit if this resolution will invite some soul searching and a hard look at the broken mirror of academic abuse.
Anonymous said…
I agree that UCSB should own up and take responsibility for their mistakes, especially in light of what happened at later field programs. Let us not forget that it was UCSB administration who ignored and rejected the repeated pleas of the student who was sexually assaulted at the IFR field school in 2018, by claiming that since it happened outside their jurisdiction the fault falls on IFR. This was recently brought up again by UCSB anthro faculty Amber VanDerwarker, who commented in the SAA presidential session that IFR needs to provide or require evidence of sexual harassment training by their instructors. Certainly, IFR’s cover-ups were discussed enough and in detail in this blog, but UCSB should not be quick to throw the blame on others when they themselves passed the harasser.