Kyle Barella is an immigration lawyer with his own firm. Last week he gave an "exclusive" interview to Breitbart News Network on his views about birthright citizenship and the whole "anchor baby" controversy. That was, of course, his right. He said he thinks that birthright citizenship is being abused and that we should end it. He said so rather mildly, particularly given where he was being quoted.
This is modern America, so naturally someone was upset about his viewpoint and left his law firm a one-star review on Yelp complaining that his ideas are "borderline racist." It's his only review right now. The reviewer — "Amir K." — thinks that Kyle Barella shouldn't be an immigration lawyer because of his views on birthright citizenship:
I'm not a fan of "this dude is a wrongthinker so let's go leave bad reviews on his business' Yelp page." If Kyle Barella had complained to Yelp that Amir is not a customer and shouldn't be leaving reviews, I'd support him. If he campaigned to get Yelp to change its rules so that it's not so easily turned into a vehicle to express outrage at the Mean Person Of the Day, I'd support him. If he wrote a reply suggesting that Amir is a choad, I'd support him. If he argued that lawyers can have a wide variety of political views that don't impair their ability as advocates, I'd agree.
But, as I said, this is America. So Mr. Barella sent a legal threat. I can't support that.
Kyle Barella is mad because the Yelp post hurts his reputation. "Even worse than voluntarily appearing on Breitbart!" he might say, but I guess that's implied.
This letter is either thoroughly stupid or entirely dishonest.
First, Mr. Barella suggests that Amir committed libel because Amir wasn't a customer of the law firm. But Amir doesn't say he was a customer of the law firm. He doesn't imply it. In fact, the implication of his post — which is entirely about is asschafe over Mr. Barella's Breitbart comments — is that he's a stranger who wandered in because he didn't like what he read. I suppose you could construct an argument that anyone who posts on Yelp implicitly asserts that they were a customer, but that would be a very bad argument, because the trend of leaving angry Yelp reviews for complete strangers as part of public castigation is a well-known phenomenon.
Second, Mr. Barella claims that the Yelp review contains false statements, but doesn't say what they are. Remember: ambiguity in defamation threats is a sign of meritless thuggery.
Third, Amir's comments are pure opinion, and entirely and clearly protected by the First Amendment. This is not a close call. Amir describes Mr. Barella as having "very strongly anti-immigrant and borderline racist" political views, but explicitly bases that statement on the Breitbart article, which he links and invites readers to review. The rest of his post — in which he characterizes the impact of ending birthright citizenship, and suggests that Mr. Barella is "right-wing and nativist" — are similarly premised on the Breitbart link. This is a classic case of an opinion based on disclosed facts. Arguing that someone is a racist based on disclosed facts — based on what they said in public — isn't libel; it's protected opinion. Similarly, arguing "someone with those views would be a lousy immigration lawyer" may be dumb, tendentious and more than a little totalitarian, but it's still protected opinion, not actionable fact.
A reasonable lawyer would know this. I don't know whether Mr. Barella doesn't know it, or whether he's bluffing.
Amir is a tool, and represents a social trend worthy of criticism. But Kyle Barella is more blameworthy here. His meritless threat carries with it the risk that he'll abuse a broken system to punish and suppress protected speech. That's contemptible. He's also foolish, given the existence of the Streisand Effect.
Lawyers, don't do that.
I sent Mr. Barella a request for comment and will update if he responds.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- No, The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Shouldn't Sue Over "Fake News" - February 20th, 2017
- Lawsplainer: The Eleventh Circuit Protects Doctors' Right To Ask About Guns - February 17th, 2017
- Eleventh Circuit Revisits Florida Law Banning Doctors From Asking About Guns, And I Can't Even - February 16th, 2017
- Erdoğan and the European View of Free Speech - February 10th, 2017
- Still Annoying After All These Years: A Petty Government Story - February 9th, 2017