Judge Denies Latest Effort to Dismiss Climate Scientist's Libel Suit

, Legal Times

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D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg
D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg

Climate scientist Michael Mann has survived a second attempt to dismiss his defamation lawsuit against National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, sued over articles published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review that accused him of committing fraud in his research.

On Jan. 22, Judge Frederick Weisberg of D.C. Superior Court denied the defendants' latest motion to dismiss the case under the city law that bars strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. Under the anti-SLAPP law, defendants can argue for early dismissal if they believe they've been sued over protected speech.

Weisberg said Mann presented enough evidence at this stage that a jury would likely find in his favor. Although some of the statements in the articles at issue were opinions or "rhetorical hyperbole," Weisberg wrote, others "could reasonably be understood as assertions of fact."

"Accusing a scientist of conducting his research fraudulently, manipulating his data to achieve a predetermined or political outcome, or purposefully distorting the scientific truth are factual allegations. They go to the heart of scientific integrity," Weisberg wrote. "They can be proven true or false. If false, they are defamatory. If made with actual malice, they are actionable."

A judge previously assigned to the case denied the defendants' first attempt to dismiss the case under the anti-SLAPP law in July 2013. The defendants renewed their motions to dismiss after Mann filed an amended complaint adding an additional count of libel.

Mann's lawyer, John Williams of Cozen O'Connor, said in an email today that Mann's lawyers were "looking forward to discovery."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is represented by Baker & Hostetler. Partner David Rivkin Jr. and a representative for the institute could not immediately be reached.

National Review recently switched firms, from Steptoe & Johnson LLP to Jones Day. Publisher Jack Fowler said Steptoe could no longer represent the company due to a conflict. National Review's new lawyers are Jones Day partner Michael Carvin and associate Anthony Dick. Carvin declined to comment.

"We plan to fully defend ourselves," Fowler said.

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