Hating and fishing in Sherrod v. Breitbart’s widow

I wrote here about Shirley Sherrod’s lawsuit against Andrew Breitbart’s widow in connection with video Andrew posted. In the video, Sherrod regales an NAACP audience with the tale of how, as a public employee, she initially stiffed a white farmer seeking her help. Andrew did not post, presumably because he did not have, the full video in which Sherrod says she eventually saw the error of her ways and helped the farmer.

Sherrod is represented by lawyers at the mega-firm Kirkland & Ellis. They are representing Sherrod for free. They are doing so even though, from all that appears, Sherrod is far from indigent thanks at least in part to her prior successful adventures in litigation. Through their representation of Sherrod free of charge in a suit against Breitbart’s widow, the K&E lawyers illustrate how pro bono law has morphed into left-wing lawfare at big law firms.

Sherrod’s legal team deposed Christian Adams last week. Adams provides a partial account of the experience, along with his scathing view of Sherrod, her lawyers, and the lawsuit, here.

In my opinion, the deposition likely had two purposes. First, it probably was a fishing expedition for evidence that Breitbart posted the video with “malice,” a necessary element for a successful suit by a public figure like Sherrod. In this context, as John has explained, malice means that Andrew knew what he was communicating about Sherrod was false (or cast her in a false light), or believed it was likely false (or cast her in a false light).

It’s unlikely that Sherrod can make this showing and unlikely that Adams has knowledge bearing on the question. His only connection to the case is receipt of an email from Andrew containing a link to the video he later posted. Sending the link would not speak to whether Andrew knew or believed the link cast Sherrod in a false light.

The second likely purpose of deposing Adams was to harass him, consistent with the overall purpose of the lawsuit — to chill conservative journalists and commentators. Adams reports:

I had Tweeted out that it was my opinion that Shirley Sherrod was a “greedy redeemed racist.” Sure enough, Sherrod’s lawyer Jonathan F. Ganter was armed with the Tweet as an exhibit with questions to follow.

These questions have no apparent relevance to Sherrod’s claim against Andrew’s widow. But the fact that they were put to Adams is relevant in discerning the motive for deposing him. As Adams asks:

Is it simple happenstance that I was one of the few people subpoenaed for a deposition after I wrote a series of articles criticizing the immorality of suing Andrew Breitbart’s widow (a woman who had nothing to do with the Sherrod saga)?. . . .

Is it simple happenstance that I was one of the few people subpoenaed for a deposition after I wrote articles noting that Kirkland and Ellis has represented a Nazi camp guard at Treblinka, among other unsavory cases?

Given how little came out of my deposition, one wonders.

Is Sherrod a “greedy redeemed racist”? I’ll leave it Adams to answer to that question.

In my opinion, though, Sherrod the hater remains unredeemed. The Breitbart incident didn’t cost Sherrod her employment or her reputation, except during a brief period until the full video was produced. She came out of the affair smelling fine (the same cannot be said, however, for her NAACP audience whose members took delight in the racism of Sherrod pre-redemption).

Thus, for Sherrod to pursue this lawsuit against Andrew’s widow is, as Adams has said, indecent. It’s difficult to imagine that she would be doing it but for the fact that Breitbart was a prominent figure in conservative media. And it’s even more difficult to believe that Kirkland & Ellis would be representing her for free but for that fact.

Adams concludes his account by calling for a greater level of conservative media outrage at this lawsuit:

Not enough conservative media outlets are covering the lawsuit against Brietbart. I’m pretty sure that if any of those now-silent outlets were being sued by someone with Sherrod’s background for publishing the statements she made, Andrew Breitbart’s cavalry would have been riding to their defense.

I met Andrew only a few times, and didn’t know him well. But I’m pretty sure Adams is right.

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