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Blogging law prof requests ethics probe of ‘dybbuk’ commenter

Posted Jan 7, 2014 7:13 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: A blogging law professor says she has discovered the identity of an anonymous commenter who targeted her with racist and sexist comments—she says he’s a public defender in his late 40s.

University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong has filed a request for an ethics investigation of the commenter, who calls himself “dybbuk” online, she says in a post at Feminist Law Professors. Leong says she determined dybbuk’s identity based on information he posted about his alma mater, his city of residence, his job and his professional groups. She does not identify him by name in her blog post.

In one comment, dybbuk praised a 28-year-old law grad who was doing odd jobs and freelance work instead of complaining about failing to find a legal job. “I think she has the right age, gender, credentials, and eager-to-please attitude for an ‘odd job’ I have in mind,” he wrote. “Basically it involves the girl dressing up as a law professor, bending over, and trying to ask me questions about International Shoe while I spank her with a wet slipper.”

In another post, dybbuk criticized Leong for a presentation on “racial capitalism” at a legal group’s meeting in Honolulu. “Now that is what I call a gravy train or, shall I say, a luau train,” he said. “Law professors enjoying a free Hawaii vacation at some seaside hotel. All they have to do is attend some ‘annual meeting’ of some ‘society’ where they pretend to listen to Leong yap about ‘pragmatic approach[es] of reactive commodification,’ while undressing her with their eyes.”

Leong adds that dybbuk commented about her about 70 times on five different websites, starting several derogatory threads devoted exclusively to her. She tried to call and email him, but there was no reply.

In Leong's request for an ethics probe, obtained by the ABA Journal from another source, Leong says dybbuk also wrote two lengthy plays that depicted her using illegal drugs. He wrote posts disparaging her scholarship that described her as "a comely young narcissist" and a "law professor hottie." He has also disparaged other law professors, she says, and, as far as she knows, nearly every one is either a woman or a person of color or both.

Leong says in the letter of complaint that dybbuk's "sexualized comments about my appearance and other disparaging remarks made me concerned for my safety." She says she was relieved to learn he lived in a different state.

"There are over 6,000 tenured and tenure-track law professors in the United States," Leong writes in the complaint, filed with the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. "Many of them have less practice experience than I do. Most of them have weaker publishing records than I do. Most of them have weaker teaching evaluations than I do. Almost all of them have been members of the legal academy longer than I have. Almost all of them have more power and prominence than I do. In light of these facts, it is difficult to think of a reasonable explanation for [dybbuk's] obsessive attention to an untenured professor."

James Grogan, chief counsel for the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, told the ABA Journal that state supreme court rules bar him from confirming or denying that a probe request was filed. Speaking generally, he said Illinois and a few other jurisdictions have initiated cyberstalking investigations of lawyers in the past. Asked if comments perceived to be denigrating based on race or gender can amount to an ethics violation, Grogan said that's the type of First Amendment issue he discusses with his law students at Loyola University in Chicago.

"When does personal life stop and the ethics code applies?" he asked.

Update: Leong confirmed to the ABA Journal on July 21 that the ethics probe has ended without the filing of any ethics charges. "I was impressed with the professionalism and thoroughness of the IARDC investigation," she wrote in an email response to the ABA Journal. "Based on information that the investigators shared with me, I agreed with the decision not to file ethics charges. I am satisfied with the way the matter was handled."

Updated on July 21, 2014, to report that the ethics probe concluded without the filing of ethics charges.

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