“Hoffman Report” Defamation Suit Continues in Washington, DC Defendants Claim Free Speech Rights; Plaintiffs Point to Leaks as “Actual Malice”

A dispute involving the ramifications of the “Hoffman Report,” a document prepared by the Chicago attorney David Hoffman and commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA), during conflicts over the role of military psychologists, APA ethics decisions, and human rights policies in APA, was filed in Washington D.C. in late August, immediately following dismissal by an Ohio judge who said the case was not in his jurisdiction.

Motions put forth in the Ohio pleadings and in the new D.C. litigation indicate that the defense attorneys may be positioning themselves to argue that the report falls under free speech protections.

The defamation lawsuit is being brought against David Hoffman, his law firm, and APA, by retired Colonels and psychologists Morgan Banks, Debra Dunivin and Larry James, and also two psychologists who are former employees of the APA, Drs. Stephen Behnke and Russ Newman. The lawsuit alleges reckless disregard for the truth and false statements in a 2015 Hoffman Report.

In December, defense attorneys filed a motion seeking the Court to compel arbitration based on the employment agreements of Drs. Behnke and Newman with APA. Hoffman’s law firm, Sidney, also filed a request that Behnke and Newman arbitrate the dispute with Hoffman’s firm.

In both Ohio and D.C., the defendants filed motions asking for dismissal based on free speech protection laws, called Anti-SLAPP laws. “SLAPP” or “strategic lawsuit against public participation” are lawsuits without merit which are aimed to intimidate or silence free speech, according to the Public Participation Project.

The defense wrote, “Here, APA’s publication of the Report constitutes an ‘[a]ct in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest.’ Id. § 16-5501(1). The publication of the Report is a ‘written . . . statement’ that APA allegedly made ‘[i]n a place open to the public or a public forum.’”

The motion to dismiss also says that the Plaintiffs are public officials or limitedpurpose public figures, calling for the higher standard of not only false statements but of the level of “actual malice,” to be met.

The Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Discovery, saying that they are entitled to limited discovery and that the Plaintiffs are private citizens and plaintiffs should not have to show “actual malice.” AntiSLAPP laws narrow discovery provisions.

The Plaintiffs’ attorneys say that the report was given to James Risen, a New York Times reporter, prior to review and publication, and these actions are evidence of actual malice, said the attorneys.

Mr. Hoffman was hired by APA in 2014 to review interactions between military psychologists, APA officials, and the Bush administration. Then APA president Dr. Nadine Kaslow sought to resolve ongoing accusations that APA was involved in supporting unethical behavior by military psychologists.

The accusations were voiced by human rights activists and psychologists, and had been outlined in several publications, including a book by New York Times’ journalist, James Risen, Pay Any Price.

Hoffman said that communications of a 2005 APA members’ task force amounted to “collusion” with military psychologists and therefore with the Department of Defense. A media furor commenced following publication of the Report, splashing the issue of “torture” and APA across national news outlets. APA paid Hoffman $4.1 million for the Report, according to sources.

In February 2017 plaintiffs filed the defamation lawsuit in Ohio, alleging how the expansion of the investigation was hidden, how Hoffman over-relied on the accusers and aligned with the accusers’ goals, and that Hoffman failed to consider and follow evidence that contradicted the final conclusions.

The attorneys also allege that APA failed to adequately review the Report, failed to give Plaintiffs an opportunity to respond to allegations, and failed to respond to evidence of the mistakes and errors in the Report.

The Complaint states, “The false light in which the Plaintiffs Behnke, Dunivin, and James have been placed would be highly offensive to the reasonable person,” and has caused mental anguish, emotional distress, and “severe personal and professional humiliation and injury to their reputations in the community – reputations they have built over many years.”

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