April 19 roundup

University of Maine official files emotional-distress suit against students who distributed truthful information about him, says Eugene Volokh [@ eponymous] You’d think kids at hospitals have enough woe already without snatching away the chocolate shakes and toy-prize meals that might brighten their day [Dr. Charles via KevinMD] Keep your eye on just-being-released documentary A Lawyer […]


  • The University of Maine case is interesting for an aspect Volokh does not mention. You have a national fraternity engaging in tactics of intimidation against a university official to punish the official for seeking to discipline the fraternity. In a private school setting, this sort of breach of community standards could be punished easily, but the same Supreme Court jurisprudence that prevents public elementary schools from disciplining their students applies here, leaving the guy with no recourse except a meritless private suit. It would be better if Maine could simply ban the fraternity without fear of litigation.

  • “tactics of intimidation”

    Yes, distributing public documents is so terrible, you know.

    Their intentions in this DON’T MATTER. They didn’t lie, and they didn’t break any laws. They simply pointed out some public domain information.

    That doing so might “intimidate” the person about whom those facts are true, while possibly unfortunate (or possibly very fortunate, if he really shouldn’t be in that position), doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with what they did, public school or private.

  • ON AOL.

    On the ATLA site, they list several suits that AOL settled. They seem to imply that this shows that they did something bad.

    I didn’t check the individual cases, but isn’t it pretty common in these to settle with the stipulation that you are acknowledging no wrongdoing? Seems to me that the ATLA is being deliberately misleading here.

  • On the IBS story.

    The link refers to “petit larceny”? Petite larceny? is that stealing items size 2 or smaller?

  • I’m well aware the documents were public. I have no desire to get into a lengthy debate about this, but one can readily envision countless circumstances when the disclosure or threatened disclosure of public documents is considered illegal blackmail or obstruction of justice, so it’s hardly the decisive factor that the documents were public.

    Hiring a private investigator to target a campus bureaucrat who is trying to enforce campus rules is beyond the pale for a well-functioning college community. (The fact that Maine Alpha tried to hide that they were behind the distribution by having them mailed from a Colorado postmark is telling. They knew that what they were doing was sleazy.)

    Any other result leads a college to enforce one set of rules against the financial-aid students and another for those well-heeled enough to engage in intimidation tactics. (Certainly, other college administrators will now look at Sigma Alpha Epsilon and think twice before trying to bring them to account for what has been consistently appalling behavior over the last couple of decades.)

    That’s not to say that SAE’s conduct in this case should be legally actionable in U.S. or state courts (it shouldn’t), but it’s a crying shame that U Maine doesn’t have the power to expel the entire membership of the fraternity.

  • “sleazy” – complete agreement there.

    I actually would like to hear how threatening to disclose the contents of documents on public record could possibly be considered blackmail.

    “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll tell them about that court case you were involved in… that the newspapers all covered at the time… and that they could go down to the courthouse and read about at their leisure, whether I tell them or not.” Wow, I’m so compelled by that…