'Free Speech' Free Zone: Disreputable D.C. Jury Pool Mann Handles Mark Steyn

Laurent Gillieron/dpa via AP

Damn.

I mean, you could almost have called it, even though praying for a miraculous bolt of common sense and decency to strike at the heart of the D.C. courtroom where the execrable Dr. Michael Mann was claiming Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg's articles from decades ago had defamed him.

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Steyn himself seemed to acknowledge the inevitability of doom in D.C. in a lovely obituary he wrote in 2022 for another victim of Michael Mann's litigious impulses. 

Dr. Timothy Ball was a Canadian scientist whose views and expressed opinions ran counter to those of Mann, with a joke eventually earning him his own Mann defamatory lawsuit. In Ball's case, tragically, Mann pulled the same delaying tactics he used over the decade with Simberg and Steyn, driving Ball into practical penury waiting for his day in court. The difference was that Mann had filed in a Canadian court, which eventually dismissed the case due to Mann's unconscionable and unsupportable delays and ordered Mann to pay Dr Ball's legal bills.

Dr. Ball died without ever seeing a dime, being unable to collect a Canadian judgment from a plaintiff happily safe in the US. 

As Steyn said, Mann knows "the process is the punishment."

...Cute. But any joke about Mann is no laughing matter. So the warmatollah determined to destroy a retired University of Winnipeg professor.

Mann filed suit against Ball in British Columbia, and then just sat it out, knowing that (to reprise my old line) the process is the punishment. Three years ago, Mann lost the case for failure to prosecute. As in his suit against me in the District of Columbia, the plaintiff had refused, for years, to do the elementary things necessary to settle a legal matter, such as providing evidence of damage. In the craphole of American justice, at least as evidenced by my own experience, judges let him get away with that. But in Canada the court wearied of the obvious delaying strategy, and ruled against the vengeful climate mullah.

...By then, both Tim Ball's retirement savings and his health had been drained and depleted by a decade of Mann's frivolous, dilatory litigation. He was broke in both body and bank account.

Had Mr McConchie's client been an honourable man (I know, I know, we are dealing with unimaginable hypotheticals here), he would have paid Tim a seven-figure sum.

Instead, Tim's family now requires a GoFundMe campaign to cover the costs of his modest burial. His friend Anthony Watts will be posting details of that later today.

I had not thought it possible for me to loathe and despise Michael Mann any more than I did. He chose the jurisdiction in which he sued Tim Ball, as he chose the jurisdiction in which he sued me (the District of Columbia, where justice goes to die). And, when that jurisdiction found him liable, he simply rejected the plain meaning of the judge's decision and holed up beyond the court's reach. The contemptible Mann has had three years to remit what he owes, but he has not paid Dr Ball a penny.

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And justice did "go to die" in D.C., precisely as Steyn foresaw, for all of the marvelous revelations during the trial to the contrary.

...As you will hear in the coming days, Michael E. Mann is the only scientist on the planet for whom the director of the Nobel Institute has had to issue a statement explaining that he has not and never has been a, Nobel prize recipient: "Nobel committee rebukes Michael Mann for falsely claiming he was 'awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.'" Michael Mann has never been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

And the trial was off to the races with Dr Mann's wounded vanity up first.

When asked to show damages, about the best Mann has been able to come up with that hasn't been successfully refuted by the defense teams is...a mean look at a supermarket?

Life altering...except, unfortunately for Mann,  Steyn skewered him with it when he had the nerve to repeat the woeful anecdote as testimony in court.

Some way, somehow, those doltish D.C. denizens still returned a judgment in favor of the Real Mann of Science™, awarding him $1 in compensatory damages from both defendants for the single mean look in a supermarket he was subjected to. And the professional losses he never could quite quantify.

A Washington, D.C. jury has found that conservative writers Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg defamed climate scientist Michael Mann.

The jury deliberated for close to a full day before reaching its decision.

At issue were two blog posts, one by Steyn and one by Simberg, comparing the investigation into alleged academic misconduct by Mann, then a Penn State professor, to Penn State’s handling of Jerry Sandusky, the school’s former head of athletics who raped and molested children.

“If an institution is prepared to cover up systemic statutory rape of minors, what won’t it cover up?” Steyn wrote in his post, which quoted Simberg’s.

The jury awarded Mann $1 in compensatory damages from each plaintiff. It also awarded $1,000 in punitive damages from Simberg and $1 million from Steyn.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Steyn said the $1 damages award proves the jury found Mann didn’t suffer any losses.

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As for punitive damages, this is where the jury truly lost its collective mind. 

Compensatory damages are supposed to compensate for actual losses, n'est pas? Well, if Mann's actual losses were only worth a buck a pop from each guy, the punitive thousand dollars from Simberg is pushing it, while the million bucks they ordered Steyn to pay is a fever dream.

A fever dream, like...climate change, perhaps? This was precisely what Justice Alito wrote in his dissent - and warned about - when the case was petitioned before SCOTUS in 2019.

...First, the question that the jury will apparently be asked to decide—whether petitioners' assertions about Mann's use of scientific data can be shown to be factually false — is highly technical. Whether an academic's use and presentation of data falls within the range deemed reasonable by those in the field is not an easy matter for lay jurors to assess...

Second, the controversial nature of the whole subject of climate change exacerbates the risk that the jurors' determination will be colored by their preconceptions on the matter. When allegedly defamatory speech concerns a political or social issue that arouses intense feelings, selecting an impartial jury presents special difficulties. And when, as is often the case, allegedly defamatory speech is disseminated nationally, a plaintiff may be able to bring suit in whichever jurisdiction seems likely to have the highest percentage of jurors who are sympathetic to the plaintiff 's point of view...

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Undoubtedly, Steyn takes this to appeal. But his health is awful at the moment, and I'm sure that he's got to take some downtime even as the process starts.

Lord knows we want that precious, magnificent man around to see it completely through - perhaps even to vindication if there's any justice in this world.

John Hinderaker has a good, sober post on this, as you might imagine, laying out Steyn's options.

While admittedly a legal ignoramus (I only play a lawyer on HotAir), I have heard there's an interesting possible twist concerning those punitive awards, the appeal, and SCOTUS cases. In previous decisions - particularly State Farm v Campbell - the court put the crimp on yuge punitive awards that were totally out of sync with the compensatory damages assigned. In effect, SCOTUS said the two have got to have some sort of relation to each other.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that the due process clause usually limits punitive damage awards to less than ten times the size of the compensatory damages awarded and that punitive damage awards of four times the compensatory damage award is "close to the line of constitutional impropriety"

The Court reached this conclusion applying guideposts first noted in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996), requiring courts to consider:

  1. the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's misconduct;
  2. the disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award; and
  3. the difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases.
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Based on these past decisions, when a jury only finds $1 worth of actual harm, how much are the other three deciding factors for punitive damages worth? Hardly a $1000, less mind a million. 

Just doing the 4X math for damages that the court determined was "close to constitutional impropriety," Steyn, if he loses the appeal but has the judgment properly reduced, should be able to hand over a fiver and call it a day.

I hope he spits on it first, but that's the Irish in me.

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Jazz Shaw 8:30 AM | February 25, 2024
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