Parker Argues in Defamation Lawsuit

Professor Jeffrey Parker provided oral argument before the Seventh Circuit on October 21 for the plaintiff in a defamation case that revolves around an e-mail message in which one economist criticized another. Parker argued  in Lott v. Levitt on behalf of John R. Lott Jr., an economist who is best known for his belief that crime rates decline in areas where citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons.

Lott filed suit against rival economist Steven D. Levitt, who commented in an e-mail to a third party in a manner Lott believed defamed him. Levitt was represented by lawyer Slade Metcalf of Hogan & Hartson.

In a prior ruling handed down by Judge Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court in Chicago, the judge found that Levitt might have committed an act of libel. Judge Castillo did not rule at that time on the merits of Lott's complaint, leaving those issues to be dealt with at trial. He determined, however, that if Levitt's e-mail statements were proven false, they "qualify as defamatory per se because they impute a lack of ability in Lott's profession." 

Federal Judge Allows Defamation Lawsuit Against Best-Selling Economist to Proceed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 26, 2007. By David Glenn.

"The ruling marks the latest round in a long-running battle between Mr. Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Mr. Lott, an economist best known for arguing that crime rates decline in areas where citizens are allowed to carry concealed weapons.

"Mr. Lott is a visiting professor of economics at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Mr. Levitt is a co-author, with the journalist Stephen J. Dubner, of the best-selling Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (William Morrow, 2005).

"For several years, Mr. Lott has aggressively criticized Mr. Levitt's controversial theory that America's sharp drop in crime during the 1990s was partly a byproduct of the legalization of abortion, in 1973. Mr. Levitt has returned the favor by scrutinizing Mr. Lott's statistical models of gun ownership and crime rates.

"After Mr. Levitt took a shot at Mr. Lott's theory in Freakonomics, John B. McCall, a retired economist living in Texas, wrote to Mr. Levitt to complain. What about all of the scholarly papers that support Mr. Lott's theories, Mr. McCall asked, especially those that appeared in a 2001 issue of The Journal of Law and Economics? That journal, Mr. McCall wrote, 'is not chopped liver.'

"Mr. Levitt replied with the following message, which lies at the heart of Mr. Lott's lawsuit: 'It was not a peer-refereed edition of The Journal. For $15,000 he was able to buy an issue and put in only work that supported him. My best friend was the editor and was outraged the press let Lott do this.'

"That issue of the journal was devoted to papers presented at a 1999 conference on guns and crime, sponsored by Yale Law School and the American Enterprise Institute, of which Mr. Lott was the primary organizer. He arranged for the papers to be published in a supplemental issue of the journal, as long as he covered the postage and printing costs.

"Such 'symposium issues' are not uncommon among economics journals. Indeed, Mr. Levitt himself participated in a 1997 conference, also organized by Mr. Lott, whose papers were later published in another supplemental issue of The Journal of Law and Economics."

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