Climate scientist Michael Mann wins defamation lawsuit against Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg

Yesterday, a jury in the District of Columbia ruled in favor of climate scientist Michael Mann in his long-running defamation lawsuit against writers Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg, over blog posts the two wrote challenging the validity of his research and comparing Penn State’s investigation into Mann’s influence. alleged misconduct with the University’s cover-up by Jerry Sandusky. The lawsuit was initially filed in 2012 and initially included National review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute as defendants.

The jury awarded Mann nominal damages of $1 against each defendant, but then added punitive damages of $1 million against Steyn and $1,000 against Simberg. I think these damages – if not the verdict itself – will probably be appealed.

Punitive damages would appear to be the most vulnerable part of the sentence. Under existing Supreme Court precedent, excessive punitive damages violate due process. So, for example, in BMW of North America vs. Gore, the Court found that an award of $2 million in punitive damages was excessive given that the plaintiff was only awarded $2,000 in compensatory damages. This ratio of 1000 to 1, the Court held, could not be justified even considering the extent to which the defendant had engaged in egregious conduct.

There is some question if BMW would continue to attract a majority of the Court today. That decision was 5-4. Justice Stevens wrote the majority, which was joined by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Thomas dissented. Nonetheless, the BMW detention is binding on lower courts.

Although Mann prevailed at trial, the proceedings also exposed slimy conduct on his part, including his denigration of scientists he disagrees with and behind-the-scenes attempts to suppress papers by scientists he doesn’t like.

This long-running litigation may not be over. Steyn’s camp has indicated that she intends to challenge the punitive damages award (if not other aspects of the decision). Mann’s lawyer also said this NOW they still intend to appeal against the previous sentences which had revoked the CEI e National review from the case: “When asked about the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review, John Williams said, ‘They’re next.'”

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A postscript. Here’s a disclaimer I’ve included in previous posts about this litigation:

DISCLOSURE: As I’ve noted in previous posts on this case, I’m a contributing editor at National Review Online, which means I have a fancier byline when I submit stories to the publication and occasionally contribute to The Corner and Bench Memos. This is not a paid position. I also worked at the Competitive Enterprise Institute from 1991 to 2000, many years before the events that are the subject of this litigation. If any of these facts make you suspect bias on my part, so be it.

Note that while I was once something of a climate skeptic (much like Jerry Taylor), my views have changed. Today I have deep disagreements with the CEI on the topic of climate change, having supported the defense of the scientific “consensus” on climate change and in favor of a carbon tax, among other measures to address the climate threat. My interest in this litigation arises from the implications for intense debate on matters of public interest, as I have explained in this post.

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