Updated again below.
(1) On the evening of February 28th, 2013 Prof. Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago Law School sent creepy pseudonymous email messages to at least two people who had criticized him anonymously in comment threads at The Faculty Lounge. Leiter used his firstname.lastname@example.org email account for this purpose.
(2) Two days later, again using his Peter Aduren alt, Leiter attempted to “out” one of his TFL critics on JD Underground, with a post that was quickly deleted by the administrator.
(3) That same day, Leiter used his University of Chicago email account to sent a threatening email to a third pseudonymous TFL critic.
(4) Also on that day, Leiter published a post on his law school blog, boasting that he was going to do what he could to try to get an “insolent” and “impertinent” young associate at a law firm, who had sent Leiter a pointed but otherwise inoffensive one-sentence question via email, in trouble with the firm’s partners. In that post, Leiter also threatened to out lawyers who engage in “unprofessional” behavior, by abusing the privilege of internet anonymity.
(5) The next morning a poster started a thread at Top Law Schools, linking to Leiter’s post, and suggesting that Leiter “has too much time on his hands, and is kind of an imperious, self-important asshole to boot.” Literally within minutes after this post went up, Leiter registered pseudononymously at TLS (you have to register to read the forum on which the post appeared), using his aduren gmail account to do so. Shortly afterwards Leiter contacted the site’s legal counsel, asking TLS to remove the post. TLS refused to do so.
(6) After conversations with some of his targets, I looked into this series of events and determined via triangulation that Leiter got the email addresses he used to contact them from The Faculty Lounge. I determined that Leiter’s co-blogger Dan Filler was an obvious candidate for having given Leiter access to the critics’ email addresses, and in at least one case an IP address as well.
(7) Early last week I contacted Filler and asked him whether he had had anything to do with Leiter’s acquisition of the email addresses of his targets. He didn’t respond. I then made the information above public.
(8) Filler finally responded on Friday, by giving a statement to Above the Law that didn’t address the question of whether he had given Leiter access to the information.
(9) Over the weekend, numerous commenters at TFL asked the site’s bloggers to address this issue. Finally, on Monday morning the site’s bloggers posted this.
Comment: I remain unaware of any plausible alternative explanation in regard to how Leiter acquired the emails of the three people he harassed between February 27 and March 2. This of course suggests that yesterday’s statement from TFL is inaccurate in some way. It could be inaccurate because:
(a) One of the signatories is being untruthful.
(b) The statement is less definitive than it sounds. As someone in the comment thread suggests (btw unlike Leiter when I use the word “someone” in such a context I mean someone other than “myself” — I haven’t commented in that thread) the phrase “identifying information” could be construed to exclude IP addresses and email addresses, if the latter were just screen names.
(c) Either a former or guest TFL blogger who retains admin privileges transmitted the information to Leiter.
Of course Leiter could resolve the suspicions hanging over current and former TFL bloggers by revealing who gave him the email addresses. Short of that, the precise details of what happened are likely to remain unclear.
Going forward, I would like to pay no more attention to this sad and disturbing matter, but I’m putting up this post to help clarify a series of complex events, since unfortunately it’s quite likely that Leiter will continue to engage in this kind of thing, and it would be good for his future correspondents to be forewarned.
Update: Paul Horwitz has a post at Prawfsblawg (which he’s not allowing people to comment on) in which he upbraids me for initially suggesting that Dan Filler was the person who most likely leaked the email addresses to Leiter, and then moving to stronger statements in which I asserted that Filler “apparently” transmitted the information to his co-blogger. The latter statements were a product of what can only be described as Filler’s extremely suspicious behavior in this matter: When contacted, he simply refused for several days to address what pretty much everyone except for Brian Leiter and his numerous sock puppets now recognizes was at the least a serious breach of internet privacy norms. When he finally did speak to the issue, Filler gave, as Scott pointed out, a remarkably lame response, that only intensified doubts about his conduct. In short it took Filler six days to issue an actual denial (if one chooses to interpret yesterday’s TFL post as that).
Now there are other explanations for Filler’s conduct besides direct guilt: perhaps he’s covering for someone else at TFL, or perhaps he just doesn’t know how to handle this kind of squalid controversy (in which case I suggest he might not want to continue to hang around Brian Leiter.) And I do acknowledge that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Leiter got the emails from some source other than TFL (though no one has even suggested how this could have happened, given the known facts).
If at some point in the future Filler is cleared, I will of course give that event as much publicity as I can. Until then, he’ll have to live with what remain well-founded suspicions regarding his conduct in this matter.
Update II: Cross-posted from comments at TFL:
I wish to emphasize here for the internet version of posterity that Brian Leiter, whose latest update on his blog regarding this matter reads very much like the work of a mentally unstable individual [link added by SEK] does not deny that he is “Peter Aduren,” author of pseudonymous messages to TFL commenters, who, quite understandably in my view, perceived those messages as harassing and threatening. The question of who outed these commenters to Leiter is a secondary issue which, while important, is not nearly as important as Leiter’s ongoing behavior.
I hope that someone at Chicago has the good sense to intervene, and to get him the kind of help he seems to need.