The story thus far: skeptical writer Karen Stollznow accused deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine Ben Radford of sexual harassment. I reported on that. Radford sued Stollznow for defamation. I reported on that. Before the case went to court, Stollznow apparently signed a retraction. I reported on that. Radford threatened to sue me for my reporting. I reported on that, while hiring a lawyer to protect myself and starting a fundraiser to cover the costs of that lawyer. Radford then seemed to change his mind about suing me.
Though Radford may still change his mind again and decide to sue me, I’ve closed the fundraiser and collected the funds. The total funds raised were $9,606. After 3% + $0.30 per transaction payment processing fees totaling $356.58, the final sum was $9,249.42. Thank you so much to everyone who donated. You made this process so much less stressful than it could have been, for reasons I’ll now briefly detail.
So much of the process of hiring lawyers to battle one another is shrouded in secrecy, which I believe is mostly due to lawyers (rightly) trying to protect their client from any kind of lawsuit. Lawyers know that you can get sued for pretty much anything, even if you’re in the right, and so I believe that they’re generally very cautious about what they recommend you talk about publicly.
Still, I think there’s a huge public interest in understanding exactly why libel threats are so often successful at censoring speech. In my experience, it comes down to two reasons: the enormous potential cost (both financial and psychological) of going to court, and the slightly lower enormous actual cost (both financial and psychological) of what happens before you even get to a courtroom.
You can probably try to imagine the psychological costs, if you’re familiar with great amounts of stress over financial issues. Lack of sleep, upset stomachs, lost hours staring at walls, and generally being no fun at parties are the primary results of stress for me. “Hey Rebecca, what are you up to these days?” “GIVING A LAWYER ALL MY MONEY WHY DO YOU ASK???”
You’re probably less familiar with what the actual financials are in a case like this. I know this is true thanks to the many people (well-meaning friends included) who informed me that one can consult with a lawyer for free, and just getting them to respond to a cease and desist shouldn’t be very expensive. If you take nothing else from this post, take this: if you have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to legal issues like this, don’t offer “friendly” advice. You’re just going to make the aforementioned psychological cost that much worse.
My lawyer has sent me what we both hope will be his final bill for this matter, assuming that Radford doesn’t move forward on his initial threats.
The bill totaled $4,984.22.
It came with a very helpful itemized list showing every minute my lawyer worked on this case, which amounted to quite a few hours of work. And remember: this is for a case that never went to court, and hasn’t actually resulted in a filing (yet). Also, I’ll say that my lawyer was very, very kind when it came to the final tally of hours worked.
A large part of that cost was due to the initial vagueness of Radford’s threat, and our repeated attempts to gain any kind of understanding of what exactly he felt was libelous and what actions he wanted me to take. There were several letters sent to Radford’s attorneys and even an in-person meeting, none of which resulted in any satisfying answers, which is the point at which I went public.
Another detail to note is that to hire my lawyer, I needed to come up with a retainer of several thousand dollars. I couldn’t go public at that point, so I needed to use credit cards to do it and hope that I could come up with the money later (which I did, thanks to many of you who donated).
Again, I’m detailing all this publicly so that you truly understand the enormous cost of protecting speech and that you bear it in mind the next time you hear someone make threats to sue for defamation.
After deducting the cost of my legal fees, I’ll be left with $4,265.20 from the fundraiser. I’ll have to pay taxes on the full $9,249.42 that I collected, which I estimate to be $2,312.36 for federal and $739.95 for state, so $3,052.31 total. Yikes.
Still, that leaves a total of $1,212.89 that I’ll have leftover to donate as soon as I get a solid indication that Radford has left me alone for good. As I mentioned previously, all leftover money will go to either anyone else Radford has threatened or the EFF. I’ll post an update once I’m able to do that.
Once again, thank you to everyone who donated and who offered their support. Special thanks to Ken (@Popehat) for helping me find the best libel defense lawyer in New Mexico and for giving me that sweet, sweet free advice I’ve heard so much about, even though that free advice did amount to “hire a lawyer immediately.”