A Fight-For-Free-Speech Story: What The Hell Is It With Dentists?
This is a story about dentists, legal threats, and pro-bono badassery.
What the hell is the deal with censorious dentists?
There's this guy. Let's call him Bob. Bob's wife had a bad experience at a dentist. Bob set up a site complaining about the dentist. Bob learned, in this process, that the dentist had a history of threatening negative Yelp reviewers with bogus lawsuits.
There's a bad lawyer. Let's call her Bogus Betty. The dentist hired Bogus Betty, and Bogus Betty filed an application for a temporary restraining order and injunction under California's harassment law against Bob, under the theory that a gripe site about a dentist is dangerous harassment that requires a restraining order. This is the law that you use to keep your abusive ex from showing up at your door with a baseball bat, or your nutty former employee from crank-calling you 80 times a day.
Bob wasn't threatening or harassing the dentist. Bob made a web site critical of the dentist.
Bob needed help, very fast. I put out a request. The thoroughly awesome David Casey stepped up. Dave's in San Diego and Bogus Betty filed in LA County, but Dave stepped up anyway, because he believes in free speech.
Dave and Bob got the help of Adam Steinbaugh and Nicholas Weaver and put together a kick-ass brief. Dave wrote it, Adam assisted, and Nicholas acted as an expert demolishing Bogus Betty's technological arguments. Before the filing, Bogus Betty was threatening and refusing to negotiate. After receiving the filing, Bogus Betty was asking to negotiate. At the hearing, Bogus Betty asked for more time to cut a deal; the judge refused, required her to dismiss, told her there was nothing in her application warranting a restraining order, and told her not to come back with a case like that.
A beaten Bogus Betty cut a deal very satisfactory to Bob. Why am I not naming and shaming? Because Bob likes the deal and it's in his best interests and that's what I care most about. If I catch the dentist or Bogus Betty being censorious thugs again I'll drop the hammer on them in a heartbeat.
I say this over and over: the system is broken, because it allows people like this dentist and Bogus Betty to silence people like Bob by making low-risk threats and filing low-risk lawsuits. Most people can't afford to hire a lawyer to resist. The California anti-SLAPP statute is great, but it requires a capable lawyer up front.
There's only one way under the current system that people of modest means can be protected from thuggery. That way is the generosity and service of capable lawyers like David Casey and Adam Steinbaugh, as well as concerned non-lawyers like Nicholas Weaver. Thanks, gentlemen. You rock.
Will you answer the call?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
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- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
- U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Very Wrong - September 6th, 2014