Attorney Misconduct, Blog Wars, Blogging, Feminism, Free Speech, Law Professors, Law Schools, Legal Ethics, Rudeness, Women's Issues

Should Nasty Commenting Trigger An Ethics Probe?

University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong continues her quest to make the internet safe for female law professors who engage in questionable scholarship. When last we heard from Leong, she was getting called out by Paul Campos for “research” that involved putting up white versus Asian profiles on Ashley Madison.

But Leong is better known for her ongoing dispute with online commenter “dybbuk.” Dybbuk made a number of nasty, racist, and sexist comments about Leong. Leong says that the comments have made her fear for her safety. She’s figured out who Dybbuk really is and is now asking his state bar to launch an ethics inquiry into his online behavior.

If you don’t like people trying to make your life awful, you shouldn’t talk on the internet. I think that rule applies equally to Leong and Dybbuk…

The ABA Journal has the report:

A blogging law professor says she has discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who targeted her with racist and sexist comments—she says he’s a public defender in his late 40s.

University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong has filed a request for an ethics investigation of the commenter, who calls himself “dybbuk” online, she says in a post at Feminist Law Professors. Leong says she determined dybbuk’s identity based on information he posted about his alma mater, his city of residence, his job and his professional groups. She does not identify him by name in her blog post…

In Leong’s request for an ethics probe, obtained by the ABA Journal from another source, Leong says dybbuk also wrote two lengthy plays that depicted her using illegal drugs. He wrote posts disparaging her scholarship that described her as “a comely young narcissist” and a “law professor hottie.” He has also disparaged other law professors, she says, and, as far as she knows, nearly every one is either a woman or a person of color or both.

The Illinois state bar says that it can’t comment on whether or not it is investigating anybody. But James Grogan, chief counsel for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, told the ABA that whether or not disparaging online comments rise to the level of an ethics issue is the kind of law school hypothetical he teaches in class.

And like a law school hypothetical, this is an issue that makes more sense in the abstract than as a practical regulatory matter. It’s interesting to imagine a world in which anonymous commenters are held accountable for their ridiculous statements. But, it would also be interesting to live in a world where law professors are held accountable. It’d be interesting to live in a world where unicorns existed, the hungry were fed, and the SEC didn’t win national championships :).

But as a practical matter, I don’t see how it’s workable to sanction lawyers who say disgusting things online. Lawyers say racist, sexist things all time. Are only the ones who say it online in ethical violation? Can you say whatever you want about Amy Chua because she teaches at Yale, but you can’t say anything about Leong because she teaches at Sturm and has nothing better to do with her time than to out you?

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, the Illinois Bar does with this complaint. For now, bloggers who are women, minorities, fat, gay, ugly, hot, Southern, Northern, conservative, liberal, religious, spiritual, non-spiritual, stupid, or so incredibly blessed that I want to punch you in the face, should expect that anonymous online commenters are going to be mean to them.

Blogging law prof requests ethics probe of ‘dybbuk’ commenter [ABA Journal]
Consequences and Conclusions [Feminist Law Professors]

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