This is the third in a series of posts about the increasingly bizarre and disturbing behavior of Prof. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago Law School. (Earlier entries can be found here and here.) So if the subject doesn’t interest you I suggest you don’t read the post, and/or ask for a refund of this month’s subscription to LGM.
To recap, Leiter, who has a long history of obsessively pursuing his on-line critics, (as well as, it turns out, engaging in egregiously fraudulent sock puppetry; “PhiloStudent” is Leiter pseudonymously encouraging people to attend U of C because of the presence of legal-philosophical luminaries such as Brian Leiter) has over the past week been cyber-stalking and harassing at least four people I know of, both under a pseudonym and under his own name, while at the same time threatening at least two web sites with negative repercussions, perhaps including legal action, if they did not remove certain posts critical of him (In at least one of these cases Leiter did not even allege that the posts in question were legally actionable – merely that they were viciously mean-spirited, and ought to be removed for that reason. This is akin to be accused of financial fraud by Bernie Madoff.)
The most disturbing aspect of Leiter’s latest outburst of cyber-harassment is that it was made possible because at least one other legal academic revealed confidential information about Leiter’s critics to him. Both of these critics posted messages at The Faculty Lounge – a web site run by Dan Filler, a Drexel University law professor who co-blogs with Leiter and Leiter’s law school site. People who comment at TFL are required to submit an e-mail, and their IP addresses are recorded by the blog’s tracking technology.
This weekend, using the e-mail address email@example.com, Leiter sent a pair of pseudonymous, stalkeresque emails to one commenter, via the email address the commenter had used at TFL (and which is only visible to the site’s administrators). Leiter also sent a threatening e-mail, via his University of Chicago e-mail account, to a lawyer whose name is that same as that used in the email address of another critic (Leiter employed the lawyer’s work email rather the e-mail address submitted to TFL).
In the latter case, Leiter told a transparent lie, claiming that “several colleagues” had claimed that the lawyer was responsible for certain critical comments posted about Leiter – comments which Leiter claimed to have just become aware of, although he had actually seen them — and that Leiter was contacting him to give him an opportunity to disassociate himself from these comments, which, should they actually have been authored by him, would damage the lawyer’s reputation. (The purpose of this lie was obviously to try to trap the lawyer into making what Leiter was sure, given the information he already possessed, would be a false statement).
Leiter also used the aduren handle to post at JD Underground, in an attempt to discover the identity of “dybbuk,” another on-line critic. His post asked “is dyybuk ____?” He then replied to his own post, with the message “That’s the rumor.” The post was deleted by the JDU admin (who, unfortunately, had just acceded to Leiter’s demands that an old thread begun by dyybuk be deleted. I don’t have any reason to believe the admin realized that “aduren” was actually Leiter).
In sum, someone last week fed Leiter the emails and IP addresses of several pseudonymous online critics, who he proceeded to harass. Via a process of elimination that I can’t detail for reasons of confidentiality, I concluded that the only site that was in a position to out all the people Leiter contacted subsequently was The Faculty Lounge.
On Tuesday, I contacted Dan Filler, to ask him why TFL deleted a comment asking if TFL was disclosing e-mail addresses and IPs to third parties. He didn’t reply, so I e-mailed him again, telling him that I was going to point out that TFL was the most likely source of the breach of confidentiality, and that Filler himself was the most likely person at TFL to have allowed the breach. Again, I got no reply.
Then last night I got an e-mail from someone who was deeply concerned about whether TFL’s breach of confidentiality had compromised the anonymity of commenters in this thread, in which people talked candidly about highly sensitive matters (after being assured by the OP’s author – not Filler – that their confidentiality would be maintained).
If time allows, I implore you to revisit this issue in LGM or some other format. There could be serious reverberations if the allegations against Dan Filler and TFL are substantiated. For starters, many VAPs anonymously posted critical/candid/courageous comments in the “VAP Trap” thread. It would not surprise me if Leiter wanted to track down who these heretics were. If TFL provided him with info for commentators on the VAP thread, this would be a betrayal of user/poster trust of epic proportions.
I asked the e-mailer to expand on his/her concerns, to which he/she replied:
There is an extensive colloquy on the VAP thread between various posters sharing their concerns about anonymity in the context of the survey of VAP outcomes being compiled. Most of the relevant posts in this vein were posted on 2/24 and 2/25.
For starters, Eric Muller (a TFL moderator) promised the survey’s founder (Another VAP Out in the Cold) complete anonymity if he/she e-mailed him the preliminary survey results. Obviously this promise of anonymity would be dishonored if Dan Filler shared the poster’s IP/e-mail address with Brian Leiter. Relevant Muller post – 2/24/13 at 8:30 PM
On the VAP thread, the poster “Damaged Goods” posted some of the more provocative and heretical information. He explicitly mentioned the reality that several top VAP programs essentially misled applicants about employment outcomes. His 2/24/13 post at 3:21 PM is most relevant. It’s not much of a strech to infer that an obsessive like Leiter with so much invested in rankings/prestige (and the Bigelow program) would want to identify this individual.
It is apparent that “Damaged Goods” was concerned about the preservation of his/her anonymity. On 2/25/13 at 8:04 AM and 11:43 AM he/she mentions concerns about completing the VAP survey because his/her true identity would “only be a google search away.” Other relevant posts about anonymity concerns were from “Anonymous VAP” on 2/25/13 at 8:51AM; “Another VAP Out in the Cold” on 2/25/13 at 11:25 AM; and “Anon” on 2/25/13 at 11:54 AM.
Thanks for your follow up e-mail. I’ve posted several times in the past day on TFL (anonymously) in an effort to draw attention to my concerns that Leiter/Filler betrayed the anonymity/privacy of the VAP posters. While I have no evidence that they did, Filler and TFL need to come out unequivocally on the record to restore any trust remaining in TFL. If they did use IP/e-mail addresses to identify VAP thread posters for Leiter, this immediately becomes a huge story in legal academia and higher education.
(A VAP is a visiting assistant professorship – a one or two year position that aspiring legal academics take in the hope of securing a tenure-track position, almost always at another school from that at which they’re doing a VAP).
If Filler gave Leiter information about people who posted in the VAP thread – or worse yet, if Filler has given Leiter admin privileges at TFL and therefore unlimited access to the e-mail addresses and IPs of commenters at the site — then the promises of anonymity made in the VAP thread will have turned out to be worse than worthless. I therefore once more e-mailed Filler early this morning:
Please answer the following questions:
(1) How many email addresses and/or IPs of commenters at TFL have been transmitted to Brian Leiter, either by you personally or by other means?
(2) How did this transmission take place? Did you personally supply him with email addresses and IPs, or does he have independent access to the emails and IPs of commenters, which allows him to look up this information himself?
(3) Are any or all of your co-bloggers aware of Leiter’s level of access to confidential information about commenters on the blog?
If you refuse to answer these questions or fail to reply, I’m going to assume that Leiter does have independent access to confidential information about commenters, and that your co-bloggers are unaware of this. I’m sure you can appreciate that, under the circumstances, people throughout the legal community are assuming the worst about your actions in this matter. If that assumption is incorrect, I suggest you make this clear.
I also left a voicemail on his office phone, asking that he at least let me know whether he was planning to answer these questions. I’ve received no reply.
In sum, any visiting assistant professors, present or former, who posted anonymously in the VAP thread on TFL would do well to assume that Brian Leiter – an obsessive, vindictive cyber-stalker, who boasts openly about his attempts to damage peoples’ careers – knows your identity, and will do with it what people like Brian Leiter do with information of this sort.
Update: I would have thought it was impossible for me to have a lower opinion of Brian Leiter’s moral character, and/or deeper suspicions about his mental health, but then I read this astonishingly mendacious response to the claims in these posts. Suffice it to say (for now) that Leiter manages to give the impression that he’s denying the truth of what I wrote without actually denying almost anything. He doesn’t deny that he’s “Peter Aduren,” he doesn’t deny that he sent emails to the formerly anonymous people with whom I spoke (and who considered these emails to be cyber-harrassment), and he doesn’t even deny that Dan Filler wrongfully and quite possibly illegally disclosed the email addresses of these people to him after they provided confidential information to TFL, in order to post at that site. The record, I think, pretty much now speaks for itself.