On Wednesday November 13th, Maryland District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake dismissed with prejudice a complaint filed against the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery Alabama based activist law firm, by Baltimore attorney Glen Keith Allen. The complaint related to doxing and harassment Allen suffered at the hands of the SPLC and extremists Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, who were employed there.
As a direct result of his treatment by the SPLC, Allen lost his job as a Baltimore City attorney. He and his family were relentless targeted by the mainstream media for harassment. Connections between the violent anarchist groups calling themselves “antifa” and the SPLC are still being explored, but evidence that at least one SPLC employee, Michael Edison Hayden, has a close relationship to violent “antifa” groups has been revealed by journalists at Quillette.
Blake’s controversial and unorthodox ruling comes just two weeks after Heidi Beirich, head of the SPLC’s so-called “intelligence project" - an operation dedicated to blacklisting and terrorizing individuals for their alleged political beliefs - resigned under a cloud of suspicion. In resigning from the scandal ridden organization Beirich joined Senior Fellow Mark Potok along with the SPLC’s founder Morris Dees, former President Richard Cohen and chief counsel Rhonda Brownstein, all of whom left earlier this year. The widely despised organization came under fire earlier in 2019 due to allegations of sexual abuse, corruption and racism at the very top, leading to the mass exodus of senior staff.
Allen filed his complain on December 8, 2018. The SPLC followed up with a motion to dismiss a month later. Arguments over the SPLC motion concluded in April 2019, and the case had been sitting on Judge Blake’s desk for an unusually untimely 6 months before she issued her perfunctory dismissal. Allen has claimed in public statements on twitter that Blake did not address several of his core arguments, misconstrued others and made at least one legal error so egregious that he will have no choice but to bring the case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Allen’s complaint was comprehensive and contained many allegations that were meticulously documented and substantiated. One major claim in the suit alleged that Heidi Beirich, acting on behalf of the SPLC, conspired with a man named Randolph Dilloway to receive documents that Dilloway had stolen from the National Alliance. These documents were subsequently used in the SPLC’s campaign against Allen.
Allen alleged, with strong supporting evidence, that Beirich was aware the documents were not only stolen, but that they contained confidential information, including privileged attorney/client communications. Allen further argued that the SPLC paid Dilloway a sum of money in exchange for the stolen property, and required him to sign a non-discosuse agreement (NDA), a move that automatically raises red flags. Not only are these allegations illegal according to statutes cited by Allen in his complaint, they represent a breach of ethical conduct required of lawyers and by extension of law firms and all their employees. Despite its reputation as a media entity, the SPLC is still a law firm, and its employees are required to adhere to ethical standards imposed by the Bar association.
From Allen's complaint (full text):
60. According to a May 20, 2015 article published on the SPLC website by the SPLC’s Intelligence Project entitled “Chaos on the Compound,” (described further in Paragraphs 72-75 of this complaint) Dilloway “contacted” the SPLC on May 6, 2015. That “contact” obviously included turning over to the SPLC and the Intelligence Project the Dilloway Stolen Documents, as the May 20 article makes repeated disclosures of and references to conﬁdential National Alliance documents, including documents protected by attorney client privilege. The “contact” involved interstate use of mail or wire services through telephone or internet communications to coordinate Dilloway’s transmission of the Dilloway Stolen Documents to the SPLC and Intelligence Project in Alabama, plus, in all probability, the transmission of the Dilloway Stolen Documents to the SPLC and Intelligence Project via the U.S. mail or other interstate carriers.
61. The Intelligence Project (including Beirich and Potok) and SPLC knew these documents were stolen. This fact was obvious. Moreover, Beirich called Williams shortly before the May 20 article was published and in that telephone conversation Williams informed Beirich that the documents had been stolen. The Intelligence Project (including Beirich and Potok) and SPLC thus violated the Alabama criminal statute prohibiting receipt of stolen property, i.e., Section 13A-8-16 of the Alabama Criminal Code: https://law.justia.com/codes/alabama/ 2006/13297/13a-8-16.html
62. The Intelligence Project and SPLC paid Dilloway for the stolen documents. On information and belief, the amount paid for the stolen documents substantially exceeded $5000.
63. The Intelligence Project and SPLC thus violated the Alabama criminal statute prohibiting commercial bribery of a ﬁduciary, i.e., Section 13A-11-120 of the Alabama Criminal Code: https://law.justia.com/codes/alabama/2015/title-13a/chapter-11/article-5... 120/. 64. The Intelligence Project and SPLC required Dilloway to sign a conﬁdentiality agreement pursuant to which he was required to keep secret his receipt of payments for the stolen documents.
65. The Intelligence Project and SPLC thus not only knowingly received stolen documents but actively participated in and induced the theft by paying for them.
Federal pleading standards do not require that plaintiffs prove their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt at the outset of a case. They do require however, that allegations at least contain a measure of plausibility and are not simply frivolous or without any merit whatsoever. Proving or disproving plausibly made allegations is the point of discovery, depositions and finally trial. In her dismissal, Judge Blake seems to have completely turned the ordinary standard on its head. Rather than acknowledge that Allen has presented an eminently plausible allegation of an illegal conspiracy, Blake has flouted all legal conventions, precedents and Federal pleading standards by improperly taking it upon herself to not only require proof beyond reasonable doubt, but to then decide the facts for herself as well!
According to Blake:
Although the First Amendment does not protect “the unlawful acquisition of information,” “if a-publisher lawfully obtains truthful information about a matter of public significance, then the government may not punish the publication of that information in the absence of a governmental interest of the highest order.” Council on Am.-Islamic Relations Action'Network, Inc. v. Gaubbtz, 792 F. Supp. 2d 311, 330—31 (D.D.C. 2011). In Bartnicki v. Yopper, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects an individual from liability for the publication of a recorded call even if that call was unlawfully intercepted by a third party, and even if the disclosure of the call violated federal and state wiretapping acts. 532 U.S. 514, 535 (2001). The defendants argue that their news gathering activities and publication of the August article and 2016 Hate Map are protected under Bartnicki, even if Dilloway acted unlawfully in taking the documents.
Bartnicki may not apply when the publisher has itself obtained the information unlawfully. While Allen argues that the defendants are not entitled to the Bartnicki protections because they participated in Dilloway’s unlawful acts, this has not been plausibly alleged. First, although .the defendants here may have known that the documents were unlawfully taken, the Bartnicki defendants similarly knew the recording at issue was made illegally and were still entitled to First Amendment protections for publishing it. Second, Allen does not plausibly allege that the defendants participated in Dilloway’s taking of the documents as the complaint does not allege that Dilloway first made contact with SPLC until May 6, 2015, three days aﬁer he purportedly stole the confidential documents. Compl- 11 60. Finally, the defendants’ alleged payment to Dilloway and the receipt of confidential information does not constitute participation or unlawful receipt.
Allen made a plausible allegation that the SPLC engaged in the illegal acquisition of stolen property and documents. In her memo, Judge Blake acknowledged that the SPLC is not protected by the First Amendment if they participated in the illegal receipt of documents, which is exactly what Allen alleged. Blake then brazenly dismissed this allegation out of hand as implausible. More information could have been revealed during the discovery process that would lend weight to the allegation, indeed, this is precisely the point of a court case. Moreover, Allen’s allegations of bribery and illegal receipt of stolen property - First Amendment issues aside - were simply thrown out by the question begging statement that paying a thief for illegally stolen documents does not constitute participation or unlawful receipt.
But this is precisely the issue in question.
It requires further investigation and argument, and then a decision by a jury. Instead, Judge Blake unilaterally decided this issue for herself at the motion to dismiss stage of the process.
There is no plausible explanation for this ruling other than political prejudices or corruption, particularly considering the shoddy reasoning employed by Blake in addition to the unusual delay in her ruling. Judicial delay is a tactic used by judges when their personal prejudices corrupt their ability to uphold the letter of the law. Judge Blake's opinion reveals that she is more interested in protecting the SPLC than her duty to be objective and fair.
In a message posted online after the ruling, Allen had this to say:
…to say I did not plausibly allege illegal and unethical conduct by the SPLC in accordance with federal "plausibility" pleading standards for a motion to dismiss distorts that standard beyond recognition. The court states, for example, that I did not plausibly allege that the SPLC defendants bribed or otherwise improperly induced a National Alliance employee to turn over conﬁdential documents. But my complaint describes in detail who was bribed or induced and when, the circumstances surrounding those events, and why they were illegal and / or unethical. The court essentially is requiring me to plead full and detailed evidentiary facts, but I cannot do that without discovery, i.e., document requests and depositions. This is not the proper pleading standard.
Compare the allegations made by Allen to allegations made in recent cases that have survived motions to dismiss.
In Sines v. Kessler, Roberta Kaplan and her team of well connected lawyers made the utterly implausible claim that a series of entirely legal actions by the defendants in planning to attend a legally permitted political protest actually constituted some sort of conspiracy to commit violence.
They presented no facts at all with which to back up such threadbare conspiracy allegations, only charged emotional rhetoric and negative characterizations of the defendants. Yet these dubious and farfetched allegations survived motions to dismiss by all the defendants in that case except for myself.
Blake joins Amy Berman Jackson and Norman Moon in the ranks of activists whose rulings have discredited the American legal system in the eyes of millions.
The basic rules of the game are bent to the advantage of those with wealth, privilege and connections to power, even in the face of detailed evidence, while those who are less wealthy and not connected to elite players must suffer in kangaroo courts.
Despite this setback, Allen remains steeled and plans to bring the case before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. You can learn more about the case, and offer your support at Breathing Space for Dissent, a nonprofit LLC founded by Allen to fight for the cause of free speech.