Stanford prof ordered to pay legal fees after dropping $10 million defamation case against another scientist
A Stanford professor who sued a critic and a scientific journal for $10 million — then dropped the suit — has been ordered to pay the defendants’ legal fees based on a statute “designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits filed against people for the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
Mark Jacobson, who studies renewable energy at Stanford, sued in September 2017 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for defamation over a 2017 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that critiqued a 2015 article he had written in the same journal. He sued PNAS and the first author of the paper, Christopher Clack, an executive at a firm that analyzes renewable energy.
It’s not incompetently drafted, but it’s clearly vexatious and intended to silence dissent about an alleged scientist’s peer-reviewed article.
In February 2018, following a hearing at which PNAS argued for the case to be dismissed, Jacobson dropped the suit, telling us that he “was expecting them to settle.” The defendants then filed, based on the anti-SLAPP — for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” — statute in Washington, DC, for Jacobson to pay their legal fees.
In April of this year, as noted then by Forbes, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Carroll Wingo, who has been presiding over the case, ruled that Jacobson would have to pay those fees. In that ruling, Wingo wrote that the Court
finds that the three asserted “egregious errors” are statements reflecting scientific disagreements, which were appropriately explored and challenged in scientific publications; they simply do not attack Dr. Jacobson’s honesty or accuse him of misconduct.
Jacobson appealed that decision, but Wingo upheld it in a June 25 order.
Jacobson could be on the hook for more than $600,000, the total of what the plaintiffs have told the court were their legal costs — $535,900 for PNAS, and $75,000 for Clack.