Milo Yiannopoulos, who is suing Simon & Schuster for dropping his controversial book, has parted ways with his attorneys in the case. Going forward, Milo will represent himself.*
According to his statement about the lawsuit (1/8/18):
… The source of the disagreement between me and [my lawyers at Meister Seelig & Fein] arises from Simon & Schuster’s discovery tactics. We asked that all pertinent documents be open to the public record. But Simon & Schuster demanded that virtually all of the documents in this lawsuit remain confidential, and had them classified “attorney’s eyes only,” meaning that I am not even allowed to see what has been said about me and my book in my own lawsuit. …Therefore, I will now be representing myself pro se, so I can directly see the material, and I look forward to revealing Simon & Schuster’s perfidy in court. (emphasis added).
Who knows whether this is the only reason for Meister Seelig & Fein’s withdrawal from this case — I can’t imagine that a professional troll is an easy client — but Milo’s decision to represent himself makes sense if Simon & Schuster is refusing to let him see the documents in his own case.
In the hierarchy of “Things That AMB Opposes,” bigots like Milo (who is well known for his racist, misogynistic, transphobic, and xenophobic commentary) are in the top spot, but abusive discovery tactics are definitely in the top ten.
In Amelia Elkins Elkins, my novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, one of the lawyers representing the Elkins family (based on the Elliots) in a lawsuit related to the matriarch’s death describes “discovery” as the pre-trial process “when we collect our evidence from the other side through questions and requests for documents,” noting that the other side “will collect evidence from us too.”
In the book, the corporate defendant (a maker of a medical device that played a role in the mother’s death) produces reams of so-called “confidential” documents. The attorney, Jason Singer of the Harville Firm (based loosely on Jane Austen’s Captain Harville), hands one of the documents to Amelia (my modern Anne), who notes:
“This says, ‘For Attorneys’ Eyes Only’ at the top of the page.”
“I’m not an attorney.”
Jason shrugged. “I don’t think Versifier can actually enforce that. You’re the client. This is your case. They can’t hide it from you.”
Essentially, Simon & Schuster treated Milo the same way the corporate defendants in Amelia Elkins Elkins treated the Elkins family. This tactic is a common one, part of what I think is an overall trend of defendants trying to hide their behavior not only from the public, but also from plaintiffs, making it harder for justice to prevail in civil litigation. Corporate defendants don’t just do this to awful people like Milo. They do it to anyone who challenges their practices by filing a lawsuit.
It’s possible that the fictional court in Amelia Elkins Elkins could’ve punished Amelia’s attorney for giving her a document marked “For Attorneys’ Eyes Only,” but I didn’t address it in the book. If I had, Jason would’ve argued that no legitimate reasons exist to justify hiding the documents related to Amelia’s case from Amelia.
In Milo’s real-life case, Simon & Schuster convinced the trial court that there may be a reason to hide the documents from him. Their attorney said (transcript/PDF):
They [the plaintiff] have called for any and all documents that reference Mr. Yiannopoulos or anything. These include lists of entire agreements in the publishing house, their advances, their anticipated first runs, sales report, things like that were highly confidential and Mr. Yiannopoulos has started what he calls  a competing [publishing company]. So, a direct competitor of Simon & Schuster at this point and we think  competitive documents  should be attorneys’ eyes only.
In other words, Simon & Schuster doesn’t want Milo to have the documents because he is starting his own publishing company and could use those documents in an anti-competitive way.
Still, I’m not so sure the documents at issue here are the type of documents that deserve such heavy-handed confidentiality measures. The attorney said almost nothing about them. Are they trade secrets or information “not known in the trade or are discoverable only through extraordinary efforts”? See Epic Chemicals, Inc. v. Gordon, 95 A.D.2d 820, 821 (1983). It’s not like Simon & Schuster has a secret method for manufacturing books. More likely, the “trade secrets” they are talking about are typical sales information that the company wants to keep private but which are unlikely to cause them any competitive harm if Milo happens to see them. In my opinion, Simon & Schuster should’ve provided more evidence to support their effort to hide case-related documents from the plaintiff.
But it’s moot now. Milo’s decision to represent himself in the litigation means he will have access to all of the relevant discovery. I wonder if Simon & Schuster’s attempt to hide the documents from him will only bring them more grief (adding to their legal fees). I imagine it’s easier to deal with lawyers than with a professional troll pretending to be one.
*Back in October, the trial court in New York allowed Milo’s case against Simon & Schuster to proceed by denying the publisher’s motion to dismiss.