Leiter Threatens Jenkins & Ichikawa with Legal Action (updated)

Leiter Threatens Jenkins & Ichikawa with Legal Action (updated)


Jonathan Ichikawa (UBC) reports that he and his wife, Carrie Jenkins (UBC), have received from a Toronto lawyer a notification that Brian Leiter (Chicago) is prepared to take legal action against them in the Courts of Canada over “various Internet postings which he alleges defame him.”

Leiter claims to have been attacked or defamed by:

  1. Carrie’s pledge on her tumblr blog to behave with civility towards other philosophers and colleagues;
  2. Carrie’s post to Facebook of the complete text of Professor Leiter’s email of July 2, 2014 regarding that pledge;
  3. the so-called “September Statement”; and
  4. the post on the Feminist Philosophers blog entitled “Sometimes An Apology Doesn’t Help.”

Leiter has demanded that the couple:

publish on the Internet, for a continuous period of at least six months, a lengthy apology and retraction (which his lawyer drafted).  If we do not, we are warned, Professor Leiter ‘will pursue his legal remedies.’

The message from the lawyer mentions that other signatories to the original September Statement may also be the targets of legal action, and that Leiter’s lawsuit against the couple will involve “a full airing of the issues and the cause or causes of [Carrie’s] medical condition.”

Merry Christmas, philosophy profession.

UPDATE: Brian Leiter has posted about this litigation at Leiter Reports. A copy of the letter his lawyer sent is here. The reply by the lawyer for Ichikawa and Jenkins is here. Leiter’s central claim is that Jenkins exaggerated the harmful health effects she experienced as a result of his hostile communications with her.

guest
84 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bob Lane
6 years ago

I agree with both the tone and the expressed meaning in the last line: “Merry Christmas, philosophy profession.” And BTW, thanks for the “Daily Nous”.Report

Peggy DesAutels
Peggy DesAutels
6 years ago

Yes, thank you for the Daily Nous! The philosophy profession is well-served.Report

BrokePhilosopher
BrokePhilosopher
6 years ago

Only Leiter would argue that a Tumblr post about behaving civilly would be defamation.Report

Root
Root
6 years ago

Fascinating development. I suspect that if he goes through with it he will use the opportunity to seek discovery from third parties (like this website), though Canada narrows discovery a lot more than the US does. As with the UK, Canadian libel law is somewhat medieval and pro-plaintiff, but in this case I would suspect they have a good chance of winning, particularly if they file a counter-suit over Leiter’s far worse statements about the putative defendants here. Imagine a judge or jury comparing Jenkin’s reasoned and gentle initial post with Leiter’s response. Also it would be interesting to get Leiter under oath and confronted with some of the alleged sockpuppetry some have accused him of engaging in.Report

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

Leiter has clearly been cowed by the philosophicabal.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

Shame on Leiter. But Grinchy behavior is in keeping with the persona he cultivates. He is doing more to damage his own reputation than any tumblr post ever could. Bravo Leiter for hastening the demise of the broken prestige system you represent!Report

magicalersatz
magicalersatz
6 years ago

I am still trying to figure out how it makes sense to threaten Carrie and Jonathan with a defamation suit over (in part) *my* blog post. Can we sue people for other people’s blog posts? Is that a thing now?Report

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

Magicalersatz: “Just to be clear, I posted this in full consultation with Carrie Jenkins and with her approval.”Report

JL
JL
6 years ago

Let us know if they need help with legal fees. I’m sure there are enough of us around willing to help ease the costs.Report

ER
ER
6 years ago

He will sue this time, and he has a decent chance of winning. And if he does he will (try to) use the victory as a reason to not step down from the PGR editorship as promised. He will (try to) benevolently forgive the other early signatories of the SS in exchange for their acquiescence qua PGR board members.Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
6 years ago

Note that the settlement offer included reference, in the event the offer was not accepted, to litigation by Leiter not only against Ichikawa and Jenkins but also “perhaps others among the signatories of “the September Statement”.

Time now for the December Statement, condemining, on moral and professional grounds, this threat against members of the profession.Report

E
E
6 years ago

He is philosophy’s version of Krampus, and it’s sad that he represents the profession. I can’t wait to see the handful of self-supportive emails he posts from his sycophants to bolster his case. For a guy who rails about people being too thin-skinned about internet criticism, he’s pretty sue-happy about internet criticism.Report

Anon478
Anon478
6 years ago
anon faculty member
anon faculty member
6 years ago

E: there is a difference, however, between ‘internet criticisms’ and false/defamatory statements. I cannot judge whether Jenkins made a false/defamatory statement against Leiter, but he clearly believes that she did, and thus (given the amount of damage the september statement stuff) has caused his professional reputation, it seems reasonable that he would take action. My sense is that he has a pretty good chance of winning, but I do not know enough details.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
6 years ago

I am not sure whether this needs saying, but Leiter’s recent post makes some assertions and insinuations that shouldn’t be accepted unremarked-upon. First, he says that I ‘very unwisely misrepresented’ the contents of the letter we received, but doesn’t describe any particular misrepresentation. I think my description of the letter was wholly accurate; one can of course judge for oneself.
Second, the idea that anything that has happened this week constitutes an effective admission that the September Statement was misleading is a pretty big stretch. Our lawyer described what we’d said as ‘lawful expression’ because that’s what’s relevant for the purpose of defamation suit. Of course I think the September Statement is true. That’s why I signed it. I still think that, and I’d sign it again.Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
6 years ago

I am no sycophant of Leiter, but, reading his lawyer’s letter, I have to admit that he has a point. The SS and Barnes’s post made public claims to the effect that Leiter’s behavior had caused sufficient psychological harm to Jenkins to impair her ability to work. But if those claims are inconsistent with the facts, then they might be false, and if false, then defamatory.

I do not agree with Leiter’s decision to bring suit, as nothing about this ugly episode of elite infighting reflects well on our discipline.Report

Captain Sensible
Captain Sensible
6 years ago

Perhaps if this blog linked to what Leiter says rather than just editorialising then maybe the discussion would be better. And hey, between you and me, its not up to this blog to use the Philos-L email list in the UK as a source of ‘news’. The very idea that we have to hear from this blog via Philos-L that the PGR has been published is not a good sign for the ‘New Consesus’.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Jesus, people, can we just leave Christmas out of this?Report

Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller
6 years ago

I hate, hate, hate the fact that Leiter has chosen to go down this route, and implore him not to, but I do remember reading the comments surrounding ‘Sometimes an Apology Doesn’t Help’ and thinking that this was some sort of mass hysteria worthy of The Crucible. Take Anne Jacobson’s:

‘We may not understand why someone finds something very traumatic, but in fact the statistics for those who get systematic bullying are VERY dim. We’re taking suicide, heart disease, possibly cancer, etc.’

What on earth was this doing in a discussion of an ineffectual, but hardly malicious, apology? And anyone who tried to give some perspective on the matter was shot down in the comments. Perhaps had a more reasoned debate been possible online, and a frenzy not whipped up, this sorry saga would not now be playing out in the courts.Report

Anonymous, please
Anonymous, please
6 years ago

I am no fan of Leiter’s–I think he is quite the blowhard and a bad influence on the profession–but I think he is absolutely in the right on this. I hope he prevails.Report

Anonymous prof
Anonymous prof
6 years ago

Even if he wins he loses. BL should look up ‘pyrrhic victory’. In fact, the self inflicted damage already seems to be done. He should cut his loses while he still can.Report

Anonymous, Please II
Anonymous, Please II
6 years ago

in regards to whether or not Professor Leiter has a case, it would seem to me to be a factual inquiry into whether he caused the distress cited in the September statement. Considering how much time I have spent on this mess, even though I am not actively involved other than discussing the matter with colleagues and reviewing the various stories about the situation, it would not seem too difficult of a stretch of the imagination that Professor Jenkins indeed was distressed and harmed in the manner described in the September statement by Professor Leiter’s behavior. Seriously, a person makes a post promising to act in an appropriate manner in the profession without naming any counter examples and Mr. Leiter becomes enraged!? Considering how he has acted in the past, I would be worried if I became his target and I think it would undoubtedly cause harm to my other professional activities (e.g., reducing my speaking up about issues in the profession out of fear of further enraging Professor Leiter). I’ll end by just stating that if a legal defense fund is set up, I’ll gladly contribute.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

I’d say this news confirms that the following is an appropriate summary of the philosophy profession in 2014: http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/000/000/554/facepalm.jpgReport

Root
Root
6 years ago

Ligurio, it is improbable that Leiter will be able to prove that Jenkins did not
suffer psychological harm. She can state that it happened and there is very little he can do to dispute that. I don’t know why he thinks he has a strong case, but I think any litigation will result in further embarassment to him; especially since Jenkins and Ichikawa are not backing down.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

Leiter’s actions are petty. I don’t think it’s worth our time to play amateur lawyers about the defamation case. I do, however, think it is worth our time to talk about the moral and practical implications of Leiter’s behavior on the discipline and our disciplinary culture at large (a conversation which would, in any case, be safe from his petty sue-happy grasp).Report

Anon. Grad Student
Anon. Grad Student
6 years ago

Three professors, all “philosophers,” behaving like kids.

And we claim to improve the minds and lives of our students when as members of a profession we behave like this.

Smh.Report

Blergh!
Blergh!
6 years ago

Is this really relevant for the profession? It’s a tawdry affair and private. In what way do either of these parties represent this profession? *Must* I choose one of them as the paragon of the profession and then indignantly take sides?

This lawsuit concerns the two parties and their friends and intimates. If I am neither, it concerns me no more than a lawsuit between any other two members of the profession. Why does THIS lawsuit especially merit the attention of those not close with any of the parties? Is this lawsuit really of profession-wide significance?

For those who are friends with the two being sued, by all means Jenkins and Ichikawa deserve your support and care in these circumstances. But this warranted concern is personal not professional.

I suppose many friends of J&I feel this is of deep political significance. Maybe. But it’s hard to disentangle the personal from the political here. Angry Internet fights between two very prominent academics with full professorships, armies of supporters, and blogs to boot just don’t seem as politically significant as so many other issues (even with this lawsuit thrown in). I do not see my own position in the profession – or the positions of most in the profession – in either of these well-off, politically powerful parties.

I guess I don’t see the point of caring about Leiter’s antics. He’s by his own admission often rude (or at least uncivil) but does not speak for the profession. The APA does that. Can’t we all just start ignoring Leiter’s antics? (I know Jenkins and Ichikawa can’t, but let us learn from this bad situation and treat it as a reason to focus our attention on DN and whatever institutions have a real claim to represent the profession.)

I wish the best for J&I. May this come to a swift satisfying end. They seem like nice enough people. But then again most people in the profession seem nice enough for me to hope that any troubles they face, including not getting a job, not resolving two-body problems, suffering under the burdens of adjuncting, etc., are quickly resolved happily. In fact, I worry more about those people (especially the jobless and marginally employed).Report

ER
ER
6 years ago

The PGR is meant to reflect a broad consensus of informed opinion on philosophical reputations. Yet the elite are prepared to go to enormous lengths to wrestle control of it from each other. What gives?Report

E
E
6 years ago

I guess the fact that he has to live with himself every day proves that you get what you deserve.

Also, LOL all day long at the fact that the litigation notice had to include his professorial title. He’s gotta let people know who he is at every turn. It’s like he’s begging to be psychoanalyzed.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Root, that might be how proof of psychological harm works in the freshman seminar; that is not how proof of psychological harm works in the courtroom.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
6 years ago

Root and others have the relevant law wrong. Prof. Jenkins will need to offer proof of her claimed distress and that it was caused by Prof. Leiter’s conduct. The normal standard is that of a reasonable person.Report

Towards Clarity
6 years ago

Just to get clear about a few things…

I take it that when reading Leiter’s lawyer’s letter, we need to keep an eye out for statements that are (a) alleged to be false, and (b) alleged to cause Leiter harm. If so, the only such statements I see are that Leiter was a “tormentor” whose actions had “very serious” “effects” on her, including “impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession.”

From a cursory look into Canadian defamation law, my impression is that the burden would be on J&I either to prove these to be true or to prove that these statements didn’t cause him reputational damage?

The feministphilosophers post mentions that Jenkins had received advice from her counsellor to avoid contact with Leiter for health reasons. I assume this is true, and I assume that the counsellor’s testimony would be that Leiter’s actions did have these sorts of effects.

Do others agree with the above analysis of the legal situation? If I’ve got it right, does anyone have sufficient knowledge of Canadian defamation law to speak in a detailed way to Leiter’s chances of success? Does anyone know, if he lost, whether he would be liable for J&I’s costs of their legal defense? (Needless to say, I haven’t found anonymous, vague comments of “he’s likely to win” or “he won’t win” very helpful.)Report

Disgusted
Disgusted
6 years ago

What was Leiter defamed by? Here is the entire text of Jenkins’ tumblr post:

Yesterday was my first day as Full Professor at UBC, so it seemed like as good a time as any to reflect on a few points about how I want to conduct my professional life.
I think of the following as pledges concerning my future behaviour qua professional philosopher. I’m making them public in the hope (and expectation!) of being held accountable to them.* This isn’t a complete list of my aspirations in this domain, of course; just a few basic things to start out with.
When I look at these statements, formulated quite generally as they are, they sound so basic that it feels important for me to note that there have been occasions where I haven’t behaved according to them (and this was received as entirely normal).
1. In my professional capacity, I will treat other philosophers with respect.
• In particular, I will treat other philosophers more junior and/or professionally vulnerable than myself with respect.
• I will not make negative personal comments about individual philosophers in professional contexts.
• If I disagree with someone’s work or ideas, I will find ways to express that disagreement without suggesting the person is unintelligent, lacking in credibility, unfit to be a philosopher, or otherwise undeserving of respect.
• I will not treat other philosophers or their work in ways that are belittling, trivialising, and/or exclusionary.
2. I will not react to behaviour that does not meet the basic standards described in 1 as if it were normal or acceptable within my discipline.
• I will make clear, in public, that in my opinion behaviour which does not meet the basic standards described in 1 is both unprofessional and unethical.**
• I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards as normal or representative members of my profession.
• I will not lend my professional authority or support to such behaviour or to the people who regularly engage in it.
3. I will work with like-minded colleagues to find ways to make philosophy a discipline in which junior and otherwise professionally vulnerable academics are not routinely subject to behaviour that does not meet the basic standards described in 1.
* For clarity: it’s not my intention here to suggest that these or similar pledges should be made by every philosopher. These are statements about my own intentions.
** It’s good to get to work on one’s to-do list right away, right?

Note that Leiter is not mentioned in this post at all. It was Leiter himself that, egocentrically, assumed it was about him. After Jenkins posted this, Leiter writes to call her a “sanctimonious asshole.” But seriously, who but an asshole could have a problem with this post?

Here are the relevant lines from the September Statement:

“Professor Jenkins has been targeted by Professor Brian Leiter (University of Chicago) with derogatory and intimidating remarks privately by email in July, and recently with further derogatory remarks publicly on Twitter.” – TRUE

“Professor Jenkins wrote the following blog post in July:
http://csi-jenkins.tumblr.com/post/90563605390/day-one
in response to which Professor Leiter sent her an email saying that she comes across as a “sanctimonious asshole” (and indicating that he is not sure whether “in real life” she is a sanctimonious asshole or a “civilized person”). The email also intimates that Professor Leiter is contemplating litigation against Professor Jenkins, states that he is wondering “what she is ‘thinking’ if anything”, and asks if she plans to spit at him at the APA or chase him with a bat.” – TRUE

“He has now followed this up by saying publicly on Twitter that he has called Carrie a “sanctimonious arse”. He sent her another email in an attempt to apologise for ‘upsetting her’, “ – TRUE

“The effects of this on Professor Jenkins since July have been very serious, impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession.” – This is what’s disputed, but there seems to be evidence that it is TRUE.

(As far as I can tell, the September Statement does not use the word “tormenter” to describe Leiter — a word that only appears in HIS lawyer’s letter.)

Brian Leiter’s lawsuit threat is pathetic bluster aimed at scaring the entire profession away from criticizing him and his awful behavior. This is not the first time he has threatened stupid lawsuits, and it probably won’t be the last. I hope we stand together and make it clear that we disapprove of his strong arm (not to mention ineffectual) tactics to protect himself from criticism.Report

Anon478
Anon478
6 years ago

You may be disgusted, but you also didn’t read: there is nothing in the lawyer’s letter that claims Jenkins’s Tumblr post was defamatory. That was one way in which Ichikawa misrepresented the letter.Report

thinkingthingy
thinkingthingy
6 years ago

Ah well, time to add Leiter to that excellent category of people who can dish it but can’t take it.Report

Disgusted
Disgusted
6 years ago

I addressed the September Statement, too, Anon478.Report

Root
Root
6 years ago

Anon Grad Student and Bogart:
I simplified the issues because this is a non-attorney audience. While I am not a Canadian lawyer, I am a lawyer; I presume you are not. Anon, my point was that Leiter has a much harder burden than Jenkins when it comes to establishing what she felt. I was speaking in terms of litigation strategy rather than law. Bogart, you are conflating two things I believe; the reasonableness requirement you are talking about would apply only if Jenkins was trying to sue Leiter for an emotional distress tort or something similar. There is certainly no requirement that every time someone expresses how they feel that they are required to legally support that such feelings are reasonable under an objective standard. The central legal question would involve whether Jenkins was telling the truth, not whether her reaction to Leiter was substantiated or not.Report

Don't Sue Me Bro
Don't Sue Me Bro
6 years ago

So, if I understand this correctly, Leiter is trying to extort an apology from Jenkins and Ichikawa by threatening them and their friends with a lawsuit and its attendant costs. Who would want to have anything to do with this guy? I suggest that after this lawsuit is dismissed we all commit to giving Leiter 0% of our time and attention.Report

Also disgusted
Also disgusted
6 years ago

New Year’s Resolution: never read Leiter Reports again!Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
6 years ago

Correction to mine above, already noted in several places: wider threat of litigation limited to “original signatories of “the September Statement”, namely, the initial 20-odd, rather than the 600+.Report

Norman
Norman
6 years ago

I think this comment by “Towards Clarity” was right, with one exception:

> I take it that when reading Leiter’s lawyer’s letter, we need to keep an eye out for statements that are (a) alleged to be false, and (b) alleged to cause Leiter harm. If so, the only such statements I see are that Leiter was a “tormentor” whose actions had “very serious” “effects” on her, including “impacting her health, her capacity to work, and her ability to contribute to public discourse as a member of the profession.”

The exception is that the claim that Leiter was a “tormentor” doesn’t seem to appear in the September Statement or anywhere else that Jenkins and Ichikawa have been involved in. Unless I’m missing something, it appears for the first time in Leiter’s lawyer’s description of events, even though it occurs in quotation marks there.

Also, about whether the profession as a whole should care about J&I here: if their version of events is correct, then they’re facing a threat of a lawsuit only because they took measured steps to make professional philosophy a safer and more respectful place. Anyone who cares about that ideal should care about this case, assuming their version is true.

Also, if it’s relevant, while Jenkins is a full professor, Ichikawa is untenured.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Root, you wrote that “it is improbable that Leiter will be able to prove that Jenkins did not suffer psychological harm. She can state that it happened and there is very little he can do to dispute that.” That’s false both as a matter of law (since you’re a lawyer, surely you know this is not how matters of fact get hashed out in court) and as a matter of “litigation strategy”. Sure, she can state it, but he can use the usual tools of litigation to cast it into doubt. He can, I don’t know, call witnesses who will testify with respect to her behavior at that time in her life, he can call experts who can testify as to their expert opinions, he can cross examine her, he can look for evidence of the psychological harm that pre-dates his behavior, …

You were suggestion that the subject’s perspective is granted special status in court for matters of psychological harm. That suggestion is false.Report

anonymous
anonymous
6 years ago

Perhaps the “tormentor” reference is to this discussion:

http://rgheck.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-more-things-change.htmlReport

Incandenza
Incandenza
6 years ago

Does anyone else feel vaguely guilty or dirty after reading Leiter reports?Report

Incandenza
Incandenza
6 years ago

Anon478 said:
“You may be disgusted, but you also didn’t read: there is nothing in the lawyer’s letter that claims Jenkins’s Tumblr post was defamatory. That was one way in which Ichikawa misrepresented the letter.”

Leiter’s purported cause of action is libel, which is a species of defamation, so Ichikawa made no such misrepresentation.Report

Also disgusted
Also disgusted
6 years ago

Ditto!Report

Also disgusted
Also disgusted
6 years ago

Ditto–viz., I, too, feel like I need to shower after reading Leiter Reports.Report

Lion Rampant
Lion Rampant
6 years ago

Let’s stop feeding already oversized egos.Report

Root
Root
6 years ago

Anon Grad Student: do you really think Jenkins just made up her distress? All she has to do is testify about what she says she went through, and put witnesses up who can testify as to her behavior around the time. She doesn’t have to show that her mental distress reached some
specific level or objective standard of mental damage beyond what she said. How on earth would he disprove this? No reputable psychologist would testify that he or she is certain she was lying about this. No jury or judge is going to see Leiter’s communications and not believe it. The prior medical condition, even if true, isn’t relevant. All she needs to do is show that she subjectively felt this way based in his communications.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

It’s hard to get any group to act collectively but I think that the philosophy New Year’s resolutions really need to include at least the following:

1. Stop visiting Leiter’s Blog (there are many other great outlets for news in the profession now, present company specifically included).

2. Agree to live by some set of principles regarding our professional code of conduct that specifically is conscious of our norms of discourse (be less hostile and negative…even when critiquing!), power differentials among faculty and students, and whatever else you may find important. Jenkins’ own pledge is a good example, I think.*

3. Remain vigilant about the issues that were stirred up this year (about the adjunctification of academic labor, about the intersections of gender, race, and class within academia, about Steven Salaita’s ongoing case, bystander intervention, etc etc).

If nothing else, I feel that philosophy has become more self-aware, more critical (in a good sense) in the last five years than it has in the last twenty. Let’s continue that.

*http://csi-jenkins.tumblr.com/post/90563605390/day-oneReport

Anonymous, Please II
Anonymous, Please II
6 years ago

I was just reviewing the Septmeber Statement material l, including reading Professor Jenkins tumblr, and came across this passage she wrote 9/25, “Some people have mistakenly attributed bravery to me; I have to correct this misattribution. I have been mostly just very scared, and at times despairing. The people who are standing up to take action are the people who are brave. I’m certainly no cartoon hero, and I want to emphasize that nobody here is a cartoon villain either. Everyone involved is a real, complex person.” I think it is a fairly interesting paragraph, especially the last two sentences, but I also find her statements regarding being scared and in despair to be pretty significant given Professor Leiter’s position regarding the statements that are alleged to be defamatory.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Leiter is surely distorting the matter: a legal document requisite to a sufficient defence – J&I’s lawyers response – is implausible basis for inferring whether the defending parties could mount a defence on grounds in excess of that minimal to a legal defence, let alone being “an effective admission by Jenkins and Ichikawa that they misled the philosophical community with their claims in the September Statement” (as claimed on Leiter Reports). To the contrary, one surely inclines to such justificatory minimalism quite rationally in legal matters.Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
6 years ago

Root,

Thanks for that. I had imagined that Leiter’s strategy would be to show that Jenkins had given x talks, written x papers, and so on during or since the time of their exchange, and then to argue that, because her level of professional activity during this time is roughly comparable to her activity prior to the conflict, her claims are simply not true. But I have no idea about the relevant law and, as I said before, no real sympathy for either party.Report

Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

‘Arthur Miller’, you might have found my comment more comprehensible if you had noticed it was about a deleted comment, not any correspondence BL had a role in. I spent a lot of time reading and trying to understand nastiness within an institution when I was attacked in a sustained academic way while receiving radiation treatment for cancer. You don’t need to be receiving intense radiation treatment to find flat denials of one’s worth to be harmful. But my decision to speak up had nothing to do with what BL said.Report

anony
anony
6 years ago

Transparent attempt to try to chill speech, no one should be cowed by this. The only reasonable response is utter and abject disdain and shunning of Leiter.Report

anonymous prof
anonymous prof
6 years ago

When I first read Jenkins’ “civility statement” I did think of BL. But that’s only because of the description. If you asked me “Who, in philosophy, often doesn’t treat others with respect, is willing to treat junior/professionally vulnerable members of the profession disrespectfully, makes negative personal comments about individual philosophers, expresses disagreement by suggesting that others are unintelligent, lacking in credibility, unfit to be a philosopher, etc. and treats other philosophers or their work in ways that are belittling, trivialising, and/or exculsionary?” I could probably come up with a few names. But at or near the top of the list would be BL. So the statement does, at least to me, seem to be about BL; but probably not in the way that he thinks.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

I’ve no idea how accurate the Wikipedia article on Canadian defamation law is, and I’m certainly no lawyer. But here’s the link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_defamation_law

I found this remark (in the article) fairly interesting: ‘Broadly, Canadians can be held liable by English-Canadian courts for comments on public affairs, about public figures, which are factually true, and which are broadly believed.’

If it’s correct, then a) the joke about Canadians being under a legal obligation to be nice probably isn’t a joke after all; b) one could probably be sued for saying so ; and c) not much follows from a legal response to being sued over a statement not insisting on a statement’s truth.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Leiter was aware of this. It’s interesting that he chooses to use the words ‘smear’ and ‘innuendo’ so much when describing other people’s words and actions.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
6 years ago

My disagreement with Root remains.Report

modulo
modulo
6 years ago

“No reputable psychologist would testify that he or she is certain she was lying about this.”

What matters is not whether a reputable psychologist would testify to certainty that CJI was lying, but whether any would admit to doubt about whether what she said was true.
As Ligurio suspects, evidence about behavior is quite adequate to meet the Preponderance standard for a conclusion about distress. There is no particular problem in principle.Report

Another anony
Another anony
6 years ago

Before we commence “shunning” (a new favorite remedy around these parts), maybe we should wait to find out who is the real wrongdoer? Until the facts are adjudicated, we do not know. Friends of CJI and JJI will support them, friends of BL will support him, others may wait to see what else becomes known.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

Incidentally, I seem to remember that a few months back, some of Leiter’s defenders were claiming that his initial threats of legal action were simply a heavy-handed attempt at a joke that went awry. I’m sure that some people will continue to maintain that, but it seems like a rather difficult view to sustain at this point.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Another anony, @62, I don’t accept your claim that we should subordinate our judgment as to collegial behavior to the Canadian legal system’s means of handling libel suits. Indeed, as no suit has yet been filed, what is under discussion is Brian Leiter’s having his lawyer threaten suit against some of our colleagues over what amounts to a blog fight.

So we are perfectly well able to say, and I do say it, that Leiter is wrong to have had his lawyer write such a letter, regardless of how the eventual suit might turn out. What is collegial is more restrictive than what is legal; it is within Leiter’s legal rights to have his lawyer write letters threatening suit over a matter of such triviality, but it is wrong of him to do so in any sense of collegiality that values reasoned discourse and avoids legal bluster.

Leiter had his chance to argue his case for having been wronged in the blogosphere; that he has recourse to the law to make up for what he must feel was his inability to win there is a perfectly good topic of discussion well before any suit occurs, let alone the result of the suit.Report

Another Professor
Another Professor
6 years ago

This is sad and strange. I’ve long had a difficult time wrapping my head around the two Brian Leiters. I recognize the quality and significance of the Nietzsche scholarship. I also respect the work done by the PGR and send undergraduates to it frequently. Finally, I have a deep admiration for his political advocacy over the years, whether fighting the forces of religious reaction in Texas or, more recently, writing and speaking on behalf of Steven Salaita. At the same time, there was always a side to his public personality that seemed oddly juvenile and bullying: the routine attacks on “hacks” and “charlatans” (not just famous French theorists, but those much further down on the pecking order than him), the squabble picking and insults thrown in all directions, both high and low (from the President of the APA to undergraduates). I needn’t go over the history; it’s well enough known. He always had a tin ear, as far as I could tell, for how these sorts of attacks played out in the broader academic public. But enough people liked other aspects of his work and (perhaps) enough philosophers took a kind of vicarious pleasure in his aggression for it to go on relatively unpunished. A lot has changed over the past year, including most importantly a tipping point reached for those who liked or even were friends with the one Leiter but who had real difficulties with the other. He’s lost a great many allies. Once again, no one needs the details spelled out. So, I’ll just say this. I do think he is quite unaware of how he comes off. I think he really believes that once all the facts are known people will forgive him for this, now egregious, behavior. Consider the following: 1) He seems to think that the claim that Jenkins’s pledge to be nice was an attack on him will actually persuade us that he was a victim of some sort. 2) He also seems to think that we will consider her in the wrong to publish his bizarre and obstreperous email rather than blame him for the cringe inducing missive. 3) He seems to think that a legal strategy that involves contesting and making public another person’s private medical history will play out well. And 4) He seems to think that we’ll understand that he’s just pursuing a legal remedy rather than pushing an already sad story (for which he might very well have been forgive), into something potentially costly and damaging. I’m a scholar not a lawyer, so I won’t comment on the legal strategy. However, I do have twenty plus years of experience in the court of academic public opinion. Should Leiter continue in this vein he will destroy what remains of his reputation, for good. And that will be a shame, since again there is a lot to admire about the other Brian Leiter.Report

newfie931
newfie931
6 years ago

@Another Professor (#65): You nailed it.Report

Another anony
Another anony
6 years ago

Another Professor, I am not sure Leiter believes any of 1, 2 or 3. I don’t see the evidence for it in any case. I do think he believes some version of 4, rightly or wrongly. He believes he was wronged by the September Statement. He probably should have chosen a different route to establish that, though I’m not sure what that would be.Report

Another Professor
Another Professor
6 years ago

For 1 and 2 you need only look at the evidence he’s adduced for a “smear campaign” over the past several months. For 3 (as well as 1 and 2), you need only look at the current statement on LR. I think a common sense of decency, as well as self protection, would have entirely precluded 4. My strong hunch is that virtually everyone else thinks so too, including his friends.Report

Bharath Vallabha
6 years ago

Even if this goes to court (and, like many, I sincerely hope it does not), I don’t see how that would settle the most relevant issues. Was Jenkins’ post a threat to Leiter? Was Leiter’s email to her abusive, and if so, in what sense? Was the September Statement only about Leiter’s interaction with Jenkins, or about a broader history? These are, at least to my mind, in addition to being personal and traumatic to the people involved, important philosophical questions. By saying these are philosophical questions I don’t mean to condone anyone’s behavior, but to highlight that the questions are tied up with real differences in worldviews about the philosophy profession. They can’t be settled by references to people’s intentions or the ordinary meanings of words. Nor do I see how they can be settled by petitions or lawsuits, any more than other philosophical questions can be so settled.

I think the job of philosophers, at least partly, is to help the public see how many ordinary, seemingly factual disagreements are actually philosophical disagreements. But when philosophers seek to use ordinary methods, like moral indignation or the law, to settle philosophical questions, it seems like they are willfully giving away their standing in society. What kind of a philosophical conversation can Leiter and Jenkins/Ichikawa have such that they can make progress in finding some common ground, even if just to clarify in a helpful way their differences? This seems to me a very pertinent question that is not addressed by either the September Statement nor Leiter’s responses.Report

anonphilprof
anonphilprof
6 years ago

Someone really needs to sue Leiter and his lawyer buddy for frivolous/vexatious litigation and try to get him disbarred. These lawsuit threats are just absurd — if they actually file a suit based on the stated reasons then it is an obvious abuse of the legal system to harass people. (And no I’m not a lawyer but my spouse is and he agrees completely).Report

Hammurabi
Hammurabi
6 years ago

The only person whose career beyond any doubt has been affected is Leiter, who was forced to step down from the PGR in response to public statements. He has no need to show that his feelings were hurt by private letters.
Leiter is a pompous ass. Unfortunately for you, that’s not the point.Report

Nietzsche
Nietzsche
6 years ago

Huh, a Nietzsche scholar who sues when insulted. Will he sue Nietzsche soon?

A: I feel bullied by you.

B: I will sue you now for lying about how you feel.

A: Your bullying is evidence that you will misuse your position of power and perhaps we should remove you from that position.

B: I am going to use my connections to the best lawyers to improve the chances of my lawsuit.

What a philosopher! He sues instead of argues!Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

It is worth mentioning that Leiter specifically tells Jenkins and Ichikawa that part of the lawsuit will involve full disclosure of a variety of presumably very personal things about her. He wants them to feel like they either have to apologize or have her put through a very excruciating and public wringer. Frankly, the situation reads to me like he wants to humiliate Jenkins – either by forcing her to sign that grovelling apology he wrote or for the case to come to court so he can have the minutiae of her life discussed across the entire profession. Something along the lines of, “If I am going down, I am taking you with me”.

If so, this very thread, and others like it, are a two edged sword. Hashing out details in these threads is often helpful to let unclear arguments or poor understandings get corrected. This is useful and good for all of us as a profession (in my opinionated opinion). However, if the case comes to court and the finer details of someone’s personal life are disclosed, are we going to sit around on the blog threads and discuss whether or not she was *really* justified in feeling as she did, or did X and Y personal aspects weigh more heavily, was her work quality impacted a little, or a lot, or just enough, etc etc. The very fact of us being willing to discuss these things here is part of what gives such force to Leiter’s threat to disclose her personal information in a court case.

This is an attempt to humiliate her *using us*.

I hereby commit to refrain from reading any court documents or blog posts about court documents or comment threads about court documents if it comes to that. It is a paltry compensation for undergoing such sustained and targeted action by Leiter, and I wish I had more ideas about what to do. But, the very least I can do is respect someone’s privacy by not taking advantage of Leiter’s having disclosed it through a court case; I won’t be part of the machine by which he threatens someone.Report

concerned
concerned
6 years ago

Is this really the best use of our time? There are thousands of unemployed PhDs who are no worse or better than many employed philosophers. Who cares if the elite are having some infighting? Can we address the profession’s real problems?Report

E
E
6 years ago

I can only imagine how much time his administrative assistants and grad student advisees are forced to spend googling “Brian Leiter” each day to see what’s “defamatory” things are being said about him online.Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
6 years ago

HK Anderson @ 73: Amen.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

So… the September Statement was–literally–a campaign to have BL removed from a professional position (i.e., as editor of the PGR). Moreover, BL’s letter makes it clear that the legal action is about Jenkins’ statements as a cause of the SS, and thus transitively the cause of the harm that his career has suffered as a result of the SS. I don’t understand how people in this thread are still saying that BL is suing over “trivialities”. This very thread is evidence of how his professional reputation has been harmed.

The lawsuit is about whether Jenkins misrepresented how BL’s actions affected her in order to carry out a political attack on the PGR (as BL seems to think). Now, you may think that this is obviously false, but pretending that BL has all of the power and is trying to silence Jenkins after over 600 people lobbied to have him removed from a professional position in response to things he said is ridiculous. Maybe he deserved what he got. Maybe he still shouldn’t sue, even though his reputation has quite obviously been harmed. (Frankly, I agree with others in that legal action is quite obviously NOT the way for him to restore his reputation.) But could we please add a bit of critical thinking to the mix?Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

[note: The following is by a lawyer who prefers to remain anonymous, and raises a new legal point; I thought it would be of interest to readers. — JW]

If Professor Leiter was a student, rather than a professor, in a high (or even low) ranked law school, he would not receive a high grade for his defamation threats. This is because the professor and his lawyer have missed the key issue, i.e., whether Canadian law would apply to his threatened action.

Professor Leiter is proposing to become what is somewhat derisively — but nonetheless appropriately — called a defamation tourist.

As Mr. Leiter all but admits, his threats would carry little water if he was threatening to sue – and litigate over/make public the medical history of – a fellow scholar in his current home State of Illinois; rather, his putative claims would likely founder under either or both of Illinois law and the First Amendment.

Leiter, however, seeks to leverage the fact that two of those who supposedly defamed him by — outrageously — claiming that his abusive speech was harmful live in Canada, a nation that lacks many of the the protections for freedom of speech taken for granted by citizens of the U.S. (like Leiter, as evinced by his own habitual attacks on the reputations of others).

Such defamation tourism by foreign plaintiffs has historically been largely tolerated in Canada and other Commonwealth nations. Recently, however, Canada’s Supreme Court has begun to sketch out some common sense limits on the practice. Among other things, the Court has indicated that – in cases arising from Internet communications — it may well be proper to apply the law of the state or nation where the plaintiff primarily suffered the claimed harm to her reputation, rather than the law of the place where the statement was initially published. http://defamationlawblog.ahbl.ca/files/2013/03/Libel-Tourism.pdf (memo on the subject by a Canadian law firm; see in particular concluding paragraphs).

Of course, in Leiter’s case, the primary place of the harm would likely be deemed to be Illinois (or certainly, somewhere in the U.S.). Accordingly, Leiter might travel all the way to Canada to file suit, only to find that Illinois (and U.S. constitutional) law applies to – and dooms – his case. That would be a quite humorously appropriate outcome. That said, insofar as the targets of Leiter’s threats would nonetheless likely have to incur substantial legal costs to reach such a result, I do hope the Professor realizes what a complete fool he is making out of himself (and what additional damage he is doing to his own reputation) and thinks twice before availing himself of the legal system in Canada (or the United States for that matter) in connection with this particular matter.Report

Catherine Kemp
Catherine Kemp
6 years ago

A helpful context also for an alternative reading of the Ichikawa-Jenkins attorney letter.Report

Another anonymous lawyer
Another anonymous lawyer
6 years ago

Also, Leiter (while thinking, not totally accurately, that the 1st Amendment protections of US law do not apply in Canada and/or England & Wales (there are public interest/free speech issues that can be raised in both systems)) fails to really understand a key difference between the legal systems – if a party to civil litigation in Canada, whether plaintiff or defendant, loses a case, that party will normally be ordered by the court to pay some or all of the other side’s costs in respect of the litigation – i.e., the defendant’s attorney’s fees and all other expenses. This “loser pays” regime normally applies to motions, trials and appeals and, as such, represents a significant deterrent to meritless claims, defenses, motions and appeals.

But there is another aspect to the loser pay’s rule – a plaintiff who lacks assets and is not resident in the relevant jurisdiction (England or Canada) can be made to post a bond in the amount of the defendant’s anticipated legal fees and expenses, especially when the non-resident is the plaintiff. This is particularly likely in defamation/libel cases when the plaintiff appears to be forum shopping. So if Leiter, an American plaintiff, has no assets in the Canada, it is very likely that the Canadian court will order him to post security for costs (e.g., by way of bond, payment into court or other arrangement). The amount would be pretty large and can be increased, as the case goes forward. By contrast the Ichikawa’s, being Canadian residents, would face no such obligation. Leiter’s Canadian/English counsel, inter alia, would probably require a hefty retainer (especially if instructing a barrister (solicitors are responsible for the instructed barrister’s fees.) So Leiter would need to put a lot of cash up-front to bring a case.Report

bentham
bentham
6 years ago

Interesting, #80; of course, if told he will have to sue in Illinois, Leiter has indicated he won’t. Why? Well, obviously, state judges, who tend to go to poorly ranked law schools, would be against him because they are extremely jealous of his being at an elite law school. I am not making this up. This grown-up man actually stated this:

http://abovethelaw.com/2014/07/law-prof-sez-state-judges-have-contempt-for-smart-guys-like-me/

(Of course, the vast majority of the “libel per se” nonsense he spouts is over protected opinion, which he seems to incorrectly think is actionable.)Report

Another anonymous lawyer
Another anonymous lawyer
6 years ago

Actually, to the extent that anyone in the unedifying spectacle of Leiter’s behaviour engages in “libel per se” it is Leiter, who regularly challenges various person’s professional bona fides and suggests that they are mentally ill.

Leiter also seems to suffer from a certain lack of self-awareness. Thus for example, one of the complaints Leiter has against Carrie Jenkins and Jonathan Ishikawa is that she published his e-mail to her, but then on that front Leiter has form, see for example: http://leiterlawschool.typepad.com/leiter/2013/03/we-get-mail-thomas-r-grover-esq-edition.html

Where Leiter published a junior lawyer’s e-mail to him openly indicating that he hoped it would damage the lawyer’s career and employment. The whole thread is quite entertaining in fact in light of Leiter current claims to be wounded.

Then there was the occasion on which Leiter organised a campaign to get the editor of the Synthese journal fired over what Leiter perceived as improper behaviour, see: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2011/05/petition-to-the-synthese-editors-now-closed.html

And as a lawyer, it is hard to ignore the entire Leiter/Aduren fiasco – which would prove pretty juicy were all the details aired in court.Report