The Awful Moment When I Realized I Might *Agree* With Milo (On a Legal Issue)

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.*

Why?

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.”

“It does.”

“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.

12 comments

    1. Yeah, it’s Milo, but there isn’t a compelling reason to bar him from seeing the documents. He’s a troll, but Simon & Schuster knew that before they tried to do business with him.

  1. ” I imagine it’s easier to deal with lawyers than with a professional troll pretending to be one.”

    This is both hilarious and thought provoking. I know it’s a terrible idea for people with zero legal experience to represent themselves. But I’ve always wondered about the fairness of that. That the legal system is so confusing that the average citizen couldn’t navigate it. I’m not sure what to think about that because I don’t want to try my hand at dentistry or automotive repair, but the law is connected to rights and freedoms. Maybe we all should have a better working knowledge of it thanks to a class in high school, or something that. Just basic knowledge. I don’t think most people know what it actually means to sue someone. We seem to think it means get money from someone in a somewhat disreputable way.

    1. It would be wonderful if more people had a better understanding of their civil rights and civil liberties, our government, and our judicial process. The legal system and our laws are complicated, but our courts and the legal profession should do more to assist people who can’t afford representation. I’ve worked on developing materials for unrepresented litigants in family court to help them represent themselves, and there is a national movement (“civil Gideon”) to establish the right to counsel in civil cases. In criminal matters, indigent defendants have a right to counsel.

      1. Amal, you are an amazing human being, and I’m so glad to know you. I can’t imagine you make any money developing those materials. I often tell my husband about your blog and what I’m learning. He’s interested, too, so now he should be following you.

        1. Awww, thanks. You are right that no one would make any money trying to help pro se litigants represent themselves, leaving it to nonprofits, bar associations, and the court system. I work at a nonprofit and part of my work involves court reform (others in my organization focus on it more than I do, though). I have my dream job, but it doesn’t pay as much as other legal jobs do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s