The Brett Kimberlin Saga: A Story Of Wacko Vexatious Lawsuits
from the legal-system-run-amuck dept
For years we’ve been paying somewhat loose attention to the saga involving Brett Kimberlin and his ongoing lawsuits against bloggers. The story was complex and convoluted from the beginning, and only got more so over time. In fact, it got so confusing that it almost became too difficult to jump into the story mid-stream. On top of that, the “partisan” overtones of many of the folks debating the story (on both sides) made it even more of a farce. When Kimberlin lost one of his lawsuits against some bloggers a few weeks ago, we debated writing a story, but there was so much back story to cover (and so many other things going on) that we let it slide. Thankfully, Dave Weigel, writing for the Daily Beast has a giant story about last month’s trial, including much of the background. If you’re unfamiliar with the Kimberlin saga (or even if you’re very familiar with it), it’s a worthwhile read.
The short version is that Kimberlin is a guy who had some significant legal problems back in the 70s, including being convicted of the so-called Speedway bombings. In the 1980s, he got lots of attention for claiming to have sold marijuana to Dan Quayle. In the 1990s, a book was written about him by Mark Singer called Citizen K: The Deeply Weird American Journey of Brett Kimberlin, but that “deeply weird American journey” was far from over. In the 2000s, he got attention warning about e-voting machines and the possibility of fraud (something we wrote about extensively at the time as well). But in the 2010s, it appears his “deeply weird” journey has moved onto suing people who say things he doesn’t like.
Weigel’s writeup of the trial is well worth reading, highlighting just how ridiculous the charges were, and how it was pretty clear that Kimberlin was suing these bloggers simply because he didn’t like what they said about him, rather than on the basis of anything that was actually defamatory. The end result was that Kimberlin lost spectacularly. It didn’t even go through a full trial. Kimberlin presented his evidence, and the judge ruled against him on the spot (i.e., without the other side having to go through its whole argument). As Ken “Popehat” White explains:
After the close of Kimberlin’s day of “evidence,” the judge granted a motion for a directed verdict against him. Under Maryland law, that means the judge necessary found “a total failure of legally sufficient evidence to prove” Kimberlin’s remaining defamation claim. The judge didn’t just find Kimberlin’s evidence unpersuasive; he effectively found it irrelevant
Reading Weigel’s account of the trial, you can quickly see why the judge ruled that way. So many of the points raised by Kimberlin clearly had nothing to do with anything coming anywhere near defamation, but rather were focused on “people said mean things online.” For example, Kimberlin questioned one of the defendants, Robert Stacy McCain, about a blog post supposedly making fun of Kimberlin’s daughter’s singing career (in reality, that’s only mentioned in passing — most of the post is about Brett Kimberlin himself). Kimberlin then calls his own daughter, Kelsie, to the stand to testify (I’m not making this up) about how Taylor Swift tweeted some of her videos, leading Kimberlin to ask her, “So, are you considered a child prodigy?”
After the ruling, Kimberlin made it clear to Weigel that he wasn’t done, and he intended to keep bringing new legal actions to tie everyone up in court (Kimberlin, in the past has allegedly made similar threats, saying, “I have filed over a hundred lawsuits and another one will be no sweat for me. On the other hand, it will cost you a lot of time and money and for what,” in an email to another blogger (who posted the email). Here’s what Kimberlin told Weigel:
?These guys are going to come out today and say I?m a pedophile,? said Kimberlin. ?And tomorrow, I can file another lawsuit against them. And now I know what I need to do. It?s going to be endless lawsuits for the rest of their lives. And that?s what it ends up being. I sue them. They sue me. They come into court. I sue them. They come into court. That?s the way it is.?
A shortened (tweeted) version of this quote led Ken White to suggest crowdsourcing an effort to get Kimberlin declared a vexatious litigant. Apparently, Kimberlin has already “filed a motion for issuance of judgment,” basically a precursor to asking for a new trial on the basis that the judge got it wrong. Another defendant claims that Kimberlin is also threatening to have his daughter sue them as well.
For years we’ve written about various attempts by people to get others to shut up when they say or write unkind things. Our legal system isn’t supposed to allow that sort of thing. Kimberlin’s actions are, once again, a (strong) reminder why we really need a federal anti-SLAPP law that will help get bogus lawsuits designed to stifle constitutionally-protected speech tossed out quickly.