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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.

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…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 newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com

University of St. Thomas School of Law, from newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com

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.

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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?

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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).

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