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Not All Opinions are Created Equal: Martha Sperry, Frivolous Lawsuits, and the Impossibility of Arguing with Some People

“Why are people hating me for having my own opinion?”

Spend any significant amount of time engaging in discussions (arguments) on the internet and you will hear this. This is different from a situation with two people reaching an impasse between two opposing viewpoints. This refers to a person who basically refuses to defend their position, preferring to demand respect for an opinion because dammit, it’s their opinion.

I have yet to encounter a situation where it is not a craven attempt by someone who cannot defend their position to cast the attention back on the person who is kicking their butt. “No, I can’t defend what I am saying but you’re being mean!!!1!!!” is mostly how it goes.

I signed up for a Disqus account last week, and my third comment left on a blog thread garnered this response. I think this must be a record, but I do not expect any sort of prize.

It bothers me as an attorney (albeit an infrequently-practicing one), a blogger, a writer, and one who just enjoys a good argument now and then. It bothers me because it’s dishonest. No one hates you for having your own opinion, so don’t be so damn dramatic.

It bothers me because it is lazy. The argument is not going your way, so you are going to punt back to the other side.

Most of all, it bothers me for reasons that go beyond dishonesty. Trying to end an argument by appealing to some equitable notion that “everyone is entitled to their opinion” does not even deserve to be called “wrong,” because (and I cannot say this adamantly enough) not all opinions are created equal, and opinions are not worthy of respect or consideration if the opinion holder cannot or will not make an effort to defend them rationally and objectively.

This is why there can be no “honest” differences of opinion over the scientific theory of evolution versus ideas like creationism or its bastard stepchild, intelligent design, because their proponents are either ignorant of, or choose to ignore, highly relevant facts.

Let me be clear: people are free, thanks to the First Amendment, to state nearly any opinion they want, however crazy or groundless it may be. They are not free from challenge or criticism. In fact, challenge and criticism are essential to anyone learning anything, ever. Should those critics be polite? Sure, but honesty and integrity are much more important.

In a certain lawsuit brought against me and a number of media companies, lawyers, and bloggers by a certain young lawyer who Shall Not Be Named, news of a new settlement has surfaced. Back in December, an apology of sorts appeared on the blog of one Martha Sperry, along with some none-too-subtle swipes at people who would dare to use their blogs to call things as they see them and fight against frivolous lawsuits (an earlier almost-retraction appeared in October 2011). Other legal bloggers have addressed this quite admirably–I would direct you to Crime and Federalism‘s take-down of her apology for some excellent commentary.

Sperry’s blog post, aside from demonstrating a remarkable unwillingness to stand up for herself, also includes commentary from a few of my co-defendants taking her to task. Her responses invariably return to “I have my opinion and you have yours, so can’t we all just have ice cream?” I’m paraphrasing. Here’s a bit of what she actually said:

At this point, the matter seems more about tearing things down rather than building things up. And I fail to see the point of that.

You are certainly entitled to your opinion and I honor that.

I don’t know Martha Sperry, and I am sure she has her reasons for curling up in a ball and whimpering in response to a frivolous, meritless, groundless, jurisdictionless lawsuit, whatever those reasons may be. Her most recent comments to her blog post suggest that she remains a defendant in the lawsuit by He Who Shall Not Be Named (which makes her post all the more puzzling). At the end of the day, I don’t care if she settles with the plaintiff, or if she sells off all the assets of her business, moves to the South Pole, and tries to live as a penguin. I only care to the extent that it makes fighting for my own First Amendment rights (and by extension, hers) more difficult.

I also only care to the extent that pretending that an acknowledgment that “different people have different points of view” counts as an argument. It is actually laziness of the highest order. I disagree with every fiber of my being that we should always focus on “building things up.” We should, however, always focus on truth. When our opinions do not help us come to a greater understanding of the truth, then they are worthless.


Celebrating a Year of Censorship and Attempted Censorship!

This monkey wonders why people are such asshats to one another...The always-intriguing and entertaining Popehat has put out his nominees for the “Censorious Asshat of the Year,” and the field is indeed proud. I am of course reblogging this for reas0ns, but I invite my reader(s) to take a look at the whole list and marvel at the human capacity for inanity.

To those who would use our hallowed legal system to try to quiet the voices of  those who would dare to hurt their fee-fees, intentionally or not, I simply have this to say:

Photo credit: The Thinker… by law_keven on Flickr.


…and then there were 79

Two defendants in a certain lawsuit I have mentioned (in which I am also a defendant) have settled with the plaintiff for $5,000. From Eric Turkewitz’s blog:

Joseph Rakofsky, who sued 81 people and entities for defamation (including me), has settled his suit against two of them. The University of St. Thomas School of Law and one of its staffers, Deborah Hackerson, have paid Rakofsky $5,000.

A copy of the stipulation and release, obtained from the County Clerk’s office, is here: St.ThomasLawSettlement

University of St. Thomas School of Law, from

University of St. Thomas School of Law, from

Scott Greenfield noted:

Rakofsky graciously offered to settle the case with all of the defendants for the “nominal” amount of $5,000.  One would have thought that all the defendants laughed.  Obviously, not all.

It was silly, an extortion attempt by a child.  And they seized it.

What student could possibly go to a school that would pay off Rakofsky rather than tell him to go shit in his hat?  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and nothing could be weaker than to succumb to paying off Joseph Rakofsky.

At some point, someone at this school is going to be charged with teaching ethics.  How does a school so utterly lacking in principle do this?  It can’t, but I guess no one thought of that when it approved of its insurance carrier buying its way out.

Mark Bennett wrote:

By settling with Rakofsky, the law school and Hackerson have painted a great big target on themselves for anyone else who wants to file a frivolous lawsuit. (Hear that, disgruntled unemployed St. Thomas grads? File that lawsuit; they’ll settle for nuisance value!)

Most of the defendants are fighting Rakofsky. They’ve joined together in several groups to share resources and hire counsel—not just because they can win the suit, but also because fighting is a matter of principle: they are fighting for free expression, and for the First Amendment. Because if you give one schmuck like Rakofsky money instead of utter humiliation in court, every schmuck whose feelings you hurt is going to file a lawsuit against you, and you’re going to have to either a) join the happysphere and stop speaking the truth; or b) spend your life settling vacuous defamation suits.

I can’t really add anything to that. I hadn’t been expecting any news about this case for a while. The plaintiff’s attorney has withdrawn and the next hearing isn’t until September 15, when the court will hear Marc Randazza’s motion for admission pro hac vice. I also had not planned on commenting much on the case. It’s just not any fun anymore. Still, this news is disappointing.


How to Sue the Internet, courtesy of Adult Swim

Adult Swim has the following bump in their rotation:

I think this has gone beyond viral at this point, wouldn’t you say?


This week in unusual litigation (R v. I update)

“R v. I” is just my shorthand for Rakofsky v. the Internet, in case you were wondering. As I’ve said before, others have addressed this case with much greater wisdom than I, but a few notable events have appeared on my radar.

1. “Rakofsky Effect” has made it into Urban Dictionary:

Infinite pleading amendments as the unintended consequence of suing to censor your critics.

This term is in reference to Rakofsky v. The Internet, a defamation suit filed by Joseph Rakofsky against approximately 80 defendants, including The Washington Post Company, screen names, email addresses, and various esteemed lawyers who publicly on their websites condemned Joseph Rakofsky for bringing shame upon the practice of criminal defense and the legal profession. As the story caught fire across the blogosphere, plaintiff Rakofsky continually amended the suit, adding new defendants seemingly every time a new individual on the internet spoke critically of him, which only prompted wider criticism, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Photo by Woodlouse,, used under a Creative Commons license

This lemur has nothing to do with the case I am discussing. He's just cute.

There’s also a Twitter account I hadn’t noticed before.

2. This may be completely unrelated, it may be completed related, or it may be some strange meta-narrative on the whole strange saga of young Rakofsky. On June 30, an ad appeared on New York Craigslist looking for a lawyer to handle a large defamation case, offering $200/week plus $150 per court appearance (this has since been changed to “Compensation to be negotiated”). First, Joe DePaola tweeted about it, and Ryan at Absurd Results blogged about it. Then my fellow defendant George M. Wallace made note of it in his weekly update on the case.

The ad is a bit long to quote at length, so I have a couple of screenshots for your enjoyment.

The ad does not identify the person(s) seeking an attorney. It could be you-know-who, or it could be another New York litigant suing a large group of defendants for defamation. One thing is clear, though: this seems a singularly poor method of finding an attorney. Fellow defendant Scott Greenfield said it best:

As enticing as this offer might seem at first blush, it reflects a problem.  Could it be possible that the reason that the litigant who found it necessary to solicit a lawyer blind on the internet can’t find a lawyer otherwise?  Lawyers are a dime a dozen, taking on dubious causes all the time if there is even the slightest hint of making a buck somewhere down the road.  Why, then, does the person who has carefully crafted his requirements for his lawyer found it necessary to go to the virtual street and solicit for anyone, anyone at all, willing to take him on?

What if the ad-placer went from lawyer to lawyer, knowing a few who could be asked to fill the shoes he feels are so vital to his cause, and was told that despite their hunger and desperation, their willingness to take on pretty much any case that held any potential to make a buck, they would not take his?  This would seem to be as clear a message that his cause was not just, not right, a horrible loser.

Who is this mysterious seeker of legal services? We may never know for sure, but his/her case seems to parallel one that is familiar to me. I will say this: we have a lot of lawyers in America right now. Some are quite good, some are not quite so good, and all of them probably need more than $200 per week to really focus attention on a case.


Did I ever mention I’ve been sued?

I’m going to withhold most comment on this matter, at least for now, but the latest complaint is online.

If you’re interested, I am mentioned in paragraphs 59, 60, and 182. There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t already been said by greater bloggers than me. The case, dubbed Rakofsky v. the Internet, has spawned quite the internet storm (which I have to assume was not Mr. Rakofsky’s intention–171,000 Google search results as of June 29, 2011.) Mark Bennett has been keeping a compendium of posts about the case and its intriguing twists and turns. Eric Turkewitz, who is representing a group of defendants with First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza, is providing ongoing updates at his blog (and they are often hilarious).

I therefore offer no commentary nor any further opinions on this matter at this time. All I can say is that I was quite surprised when I learned of this case and my involvement in it. I will say that this should be a fascinating foray into the intersection of the internet, the first amendment, and theories of defamation law. Keep watching, dear reader(s).