Did William F. Gary, Esquire, go rogue with defamation suit threat against professor?

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Is Mr. Gary actually representing Interim President Coltrane, or has he gone rogue? My post and Mr. Gary’s defamation lawsuit threat here. Potential conflict of interest for Mr. Gary’s representation of UO in this matter here.

So let’s find out if Bill Gary is really representing Scott Coltrane in this threat to sue me, or if he’s gone off the farm:

Subject: Re: retraction demand
From: Bill Harbaugh <wtharbaugh@gmail.com>
Date: April 2, 2015 at 9:33:01 PM PDT
To: Interim President Coltrane <pres@uoregon.edu>

Cc: Gregory Rikhoff <grikhoff@uoregon.edu>, “Amanda M. Walkup” <awalkup@hershnerhunter.com>, “William F. Gary” <william.f.gary@harrang.com>, Sharon Rudnick <Sharon.RUDNICK@harrang.com>

Dear Interim President Coltrane –

Last week I received the blog comment and email below from William F. Gary, an attorney and partner at Harrang, Long, Gary, and Rudnick.

As you can see, Mr. Gary alleges that I have have made false and defamatory statements about you.

I am writing to ask if Mr. Gary is representing you in this matter, and specifically if you have authorized Mr. Gary to speak for you and pursue legal action against me for this blog post.

Yours,

Bill Harbaugh

From the comments:

William F. Gary 03/26/2015 at 12:30 pm
Your statement that the University President “got Rudnick to rewrite Walkup’s report on Archives release” is false and defamatory. Ms. Walkup’s report, which has not been released to the public, is the work product of Hershner Hunter alone. Ms. Rudnick did not edit the report, let alone rewrite it. You have no basis to claim otherwise. The document that you identify as the report is not the Walkup report. It does not purport to be the Walkup report and it has not been represented as such. Your claim that Ms. Rudnick rewrote an investigative report because “JH didn’t like what Walkup had to say” unfairly impugns her integrity and her professional reputation. Please retract and correct your false statement immediately.

My emailed response to Mr. Gary:

Dear Mr. Gary – 

Someone recently posted a comment from a “William F. Gary” on my blog, demanding that I retract a news and opinion post. 

You can find this demand and the post at http://uomatters.com/2015/03/archivists-resign-coltrane-got-sharon-rudnick-to-write-report-on-presidential-archives-release.html#comment-200324. …

If this is indeed from you, I’d appreciate it if you could confirm this with a signed letter following the requirements of ORS 31.120. I believe you’re familiar with that law, but just in case I’m attaching a previous retraction demand from you, which might be useful as a template. I’m currently traveling, but you can send a pdf to this email address.

Yours, Bill Harbaugh,

Editor and Blogger, http://www.uomatters.comhttp://www.openuporegon.com

Mr. Gary’s most recent prior retraction demand was in June 2013. In it he and Sharon Rudnick said I was a news media organization,here. (Most recent to UO M, that is. Rumor has it he’s made similar demands to others.) Interestingly, it was about a post I made discussing the ~$1M HLGR in legal fees that Harrang, Long, Gary and Rudnick’s law firm managed to extract from Oregon taxpayers over the precursor to the current Kitzhaber / Cylvia Hayes scandal. Randy Geller, at the time UO’s General Counsel, wrote a strong defense to the court arguing for the fees. Geller, of course, now works for HLGR.

Here’s Mr. Gary’s response to my email above:

Dear Professor Harbaugh,

   Thank you for your response to my post and for allowing it to appear in the comments section of your blog. I posted it in my own name and from my law firm’s e-mail so that you would not have to guess at who was calling you out on your defamatory comments. As a University professor who often speaks passionately about academic freedom and transparency, I am sure you fully understand the destructive nature of this sort of lie. Not only does it damage those whom you defame, it also does lasting damage to the quality of discourse in the University community. I trust therefore that you will take appropriate steps to correct the record.

   While I appreciate your advice concerning the legal requirements of ORS 31.120, I am confident that I have a good grasp on the steps I must follow to hold you accountable if you do not act promptly to undo the harm you have caused.

My response:

Thanks Mr. Gary – 

Actually, people can enter any name and email address they want, the software has no way of checking on either. It’s one of the charms of the internet. Silence Dogood and Ben Franklin would have loved it. Please let me know when I can expect your letter.

Bill Harbaugh

and then:

Dear Mr. Gary – 

I thought you might be interested in the Oregonian news story on the archives report, here: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/03/university_of_oregon_records.html#incart_2box_education_index.ssf

Perhaps you should threaten the Oregonian with a defamation lawsuit too? Their comments are also open.

Bill Harbaugh

3/26/2015 5:00 PM, still no letter from Gary.

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35 Responses to Did William F. Gary, Esquire, go rogue with defamation suit threat against professor?

  1. Let's be clear... says:

    Professor Harbaugh is a colleague and entitled to all the information we would share with any other colleague. If Professor Harbaugh shares such information publicly then he may be in violation of the university’s public records rules. Bill Harbaugh appears to be a member of the public and no one can share university information with him that hasn’t first gone through the office of public records. Please, Bill…I want to help you but you seem to be your own worst enemy. Please identify which hat you’re wearing. You’ve already gotten people fired because you didn’t identify which hat you’re wearing. I appreciate your mission of shining a light in the darkness but please be clear with your colleagues when requesting information about your role. I’m pretty sure you don’t mean to harm those of us who give you information.

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    • uomatters says:

      What exactly are you talking about?

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      • Secrecy U says:

        I’m not lawyer, but . . .
        I have been a public employee for eons.
        Assuming that the author of “Let’s Be Clear” is a UO employee, and assuming that such misunderstandings are widespread, some education is important here:
        1. There are no “university public records rules” that prohibit sharing of information with the taxpaying public. The Oregon Public Records Act is one among many ways of sharing information. Most exemptions in it are discretionary, not mandatory, and have an overriding “public interest” test in any case.
        2. Harbaugh can’t violate such rules by sharing information, regardless of his being a UO employee. They don’t exist. Now if you’re talking about FERPA or the like, that’s different.
        3. If an employee knows of rules, directives, memos telling employees they can’t share information, please send them to Harbaugh so they can see the light of day.
        4. If a UO employee has information of improper behavior of another public employee (all UO employees are public employees), please share that information with the Ombudsguy, UOMatters, a state legislator, or someone else who can do something about it.

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      • anon says:

        What are YOU talking about? The guy asked for a retraction. He MAY sue you or threaten to sue you, but so far it is a request. And he didn’t say you defamed the president (though you have) he said you defamed Rudnick and his law firm. Why do you make things up?

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        • Old Man says:

          It may be sloppy writing (not good for a lawyer) on Gary’s part, but the opening line of his threat has been interpreted by Bill (apparently), and me, and everyone I have shown it too, as meaning that Bill has defamed Scott. I quote:
          “Your statement that the University President “got Rudnick to rewrite Walkup’s report on Archives release” is false and defamatory. “

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          • Usually on uomatters's side says:

            When I first saw Gary’s comment on the blog a little while back, I interpreted it as saying Rudnick was being defamed. A closer re-read prompted by this post and discussion reinforces that.

            To wit: The first line says that the statement is false and defamatory, but it does not say who is being defamed. The second-to-last sentence is where it is made explicit: “Your claim that Ms. Rudnick rewrote an investigative report because ‘JH didn’t like what Walkup had to say’ unfairly impugns HER integrity and HER professional reputation.” (emphasis added)

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          • Anonymous says:

            It seems the inference was made that she authored it because her name was on the document signature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that she authored it.

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    • eugenenative says:

      By all means, let’s be clear. We know who Bill Harbaugh is. Who the hell are you?

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    • Anonymous says:

      If you are referring to the records release, no one was fired, they were made to resign. I am sure you appreciate the professional difference.

      Secondarily, there is no crime in making a records request from an archive or voicing strong opinions on one’s personal blog, a concept the administration struggles with. Bill acts as an individual; it is, frankly, inappropriate (and a little bizarre) to suggest he is responsible for the retaliatory personnel decisions of an institution.

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      • Ben says:

        Forced to resign, fired… it is all semantics. It is BS to pretend there is a difference.

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        • Anonymous says:

          Oh, make no mistake, I am livid, but “fired” suggests actual wrongdoing in the part of the employee, and that is not accurate. Implication of wrongdoing should not follow these good people into their new positions.

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    • Fishwrapper says:

      Seems to me that when he inquire from his address @gmail.com it is a different hat than when he inquires from @uoregon.edu. I am looking at the 2 April e-mail inquiry to Coltrane.

      Then again, maybe that’s too obvious…

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      • response says:

        I think she is referring to “are you acting as a public employee or are you acting as a private blogger?

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  2. law says:

    As far as I can tell Mr. Gary hasn’t threatened to sue (yet). Unless you have heard more from him he has only requested a retraction of your defamatory statements. And if he decides to, he has the right to sue you on behalf of his clients and himself without the University being involved.

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    • Ben says:

      “I have a good grasp on the steps I must follow to hold you accountable if you do not act promptly to undo the harm you have caused”

      That is a threat of lawsuit. Not blatant, but not just implied either. Let’s look at Gary’s statement closer…

      “I have a good grasp” – he understands
      “on the steps I must follow to hold you accountable” – the procedure he feels obligated to follow
      If you do not…” – if Bill does not act.

      To paraphrase: “I will sue you if you do not offer a retraction, and you can bet I know how.”

      If he didn’t want to issue a threat, it should have been “I have a good grasp on the steps I would follow if I held you…” As it stands now, it is not hypothetical except in the sense of it will only happen if Bill is not a nice obedient unquestioning citizen.

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    • uomatters says:

      That’s why I asked if he was representing Scott Coltrane.

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  3. mistaken? says:

    I don’t think he is suing folks because of the comments section of your blog, I think he is talking about comments you made.

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  4. So. . . What happened? says:

    Your last bar complaint against Rusnick and Gary was dismissed “because there was not a scintilla of evidence of wrongdoing.” I suspect they didn’t like having a baseless ethics complaint filed against them, so I can’t blame them for being more proactive this time. http://www.wweek.com/portland/mobile/blogs/blogView/id:30557
    Also- implying an attorney rewrote a report because her client didn’t like the content is per Se defamation against an attorney. So I didn’t have a problem Understanding who Gary was claiming had been defamed.

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  5. scary says:

    So let me understand. This guy posts on your blog using his own name, asking you to retract a false and defamatory statement. In response, over several days, you repeat the statements, go back and regurgitate the older story, threaten to file a bar complaint against him, and then accuse Scott Coltrane of hiring hime to do that? And you wonder why people post anonymously?

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    • uomatters says:

      I’m not accusing Coltrane of hiring Gary to go after me. I sent the letter because I am wondering if Gary went rogue, in the sense of improperly using Coltrane’s good name in his threat against me. Which is looking more and more likely.

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      • just different says:

        Bill Gary is surely a self-important bully who deserves to be knocked down a few pegs, but I think UO Matters is reaching with this one. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose to make a mountain out of the molehill of Gary mentioning the University President in his threatening comment. It’s pretty clear that Gary was teed off about what he perceived to be a defamation of Sharon Rudnick and wasn’t invoking Coltrane in any substantive way. Don’t make UO’s mistake of picking a fight just to make a point that nobody else cares about.

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        • huh? says:

          Will you tell me why you think Gary is a “self important bully who deserves to be taken down a few pegs”? Because he asked Harbaugh to retract a false statement?

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          • just different says:

            Most recently, because he (implicitly, if you want to nitpick) threatened to sue some loudmouth professor over a post on his personal blog which can’t seriously be taken to be “defaming” anybody. Aside from the fact that he’s punching down in a big way, Gary knows perfectly well that he wouldn’t dare follow through with the suit because the last thing UO needs right now is more publicity about stupid behavior on the part of its lawyers.

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        • Question says:

          Who is the bully here? The guy who is lying? The guy who has repeatedly printed the defamatory comments and threatened a bar complaint because someone asked him to tell the truth? Or the guy who used his own name to simply ask for a retraction?
          Aside from that your use of “surely” is weird. Do you know him? Have you ever met him? Do you “surely” know he is a bully because of this one post?

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          • just different says:

            So sue me for defamation, Mr. Gary.

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          • Let’s not forget, @just different, it’s not a personal blog, it is officially a news outlet operated by a credentialed journalist. Can’t have it both ways.

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          • Anonymous2 says:

            just different 04/03/2015 at 2:06 pm
            “So sue me for defamation, Mr. Gary.”

            Nice–when you’re backed into a corner, just use a snarky one-liner rather than admit you’re wrong.

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  6. Question says:

    If the statement was false why don’t you just retract it?

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  7. Anonymous2 says:

    If anyone still believes that Bill Harbaugh has a strong grip on reality, please, PLEASE closely read this series of exchanges–including yesterday morning’s email to Coltrane. There’s simply no logic or coherence in anything he says. This should make you question everything he’s written on this site, whether or not you agree with the general sentiment.

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  8. reply to just different says:

    “punching down in a big way”? All the guy has done so far is ask for a retraction! And “Gary knows perfectly well that he wouldn’t dare…” is absurd. This is not about UO and potential bad publicity, this is about Harbaugh continually lying about this law firm and its lawyers. I don’t think Gary is the bad guy here.

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    • just different says:

      What’s absurd is that anyone cares about this. Show me any credible evidence that anything posted on UO Matters has ever harmed anyone at HLGR other than by hurting their feelings, and then I’ll be able to take you HLGR defenders seriously.

      UO Matters correctly said that Sharon Rudnick’s version of the Hershner Hunter report was given to the press by Klinger. UO Matters then not unreasonably speculated that JH asked Rudnick to write a UO-approved version because JH didn’t like what Walkup’s report said.

      None of that needs to be retracted, and Bill Gary doesn’t even contest it–his big issue was the identification of Rudnick’s version with the original report that was arguably implicit by the use of the word “rewrite” used in the headline. Headlines often simplify and exaggerate in order to attract attention. “Rewrite” never appeared in the text of the post itself.

      It’s a real stretch to call any of this “defamation,” and it’s completely unwarranted to threaten someone with a lawsuit over it. Hence, just for this incident alone, Bill Gary = bully in my book.

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      • So. . . What happened says:

        Just different- I think Gary is claiming that that’s not the report Harbaugh is claiming it is, in which case his posts are false. And by all Means, let’s not bother ourselves with what is true and what isn’t. Lies make for better headlines, right?

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  9. uomatters says:

    A bit off topic, but here’s Bill Gary’s defense of George Pernsteiner’s claim to be a legal Lane County voter:

    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/971644/uomatters/Pernsteiner/Bill%20Gary%20Persteiner%20response.pdf

    I like that “we respectfully request that this information be held in confidence” part.

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  10. uomatters says:

    Just in case anyone is still following this thread, I’ve now retracted the language in the original post.

    See here: http://uomatters.com/2015/04/archivists-resign-coltrane-got-sharon-rudnick-to-write-report-on-presidential-archives-release.html

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