Gibson Dunn Attorney Jim Walden: Blog Comment “Potentially Libelous”

This Wednesday, while Streetsblog reporter Noah Kazis was wrapping up his piece on the propriety of devoting pro bono legal services to help wealthy Brooklyn residents eradicate a bike lane, we received a letter from Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden. We think the letter is illustrative of the tactics employed by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign.

Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden
In a letter to Streetsblog, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, who represents "a number of individuals and groups in connection with a bicycle lane on Prospect Park West," said a reader comment left in response to ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/02/14/have-you-seen-the-latest-marcia-kramer-segment-on-prospect-park-west/##a February 14 blog post## is "potentially libelous." Photo: ##http://www.gibsondunn.com/Lawyers/jwalden##Gibson Dunn##

The letter is dated February 18, two days after Noah started submitting inquiries to Gibson Dunn about how the firm decided to work pro bono for Prospect Park West bike lane opponents.

In the letter, Walden contends that a reader comment left in response to a February 14 Streetsblog post is “potentially libelous” in its treatment of Steven Spirn, a member of the anti-bike lane group Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes who appeared in a Marcia Kramer CBS2 news segment embedded in the post.

I called Walden yesterday and told him that Streetsblog will not be removing the comment in question because it does not violate our comment policy and does not constitute libel. I asked if he intended to pursue legal action.

“I’m going to evaluate that with my client and I’ll let you know,” he said.

I asked Walden if his client in this case is “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes,” and he said no, in this case, he’s representing Spirn individually.

I asked Walden if he was representing Spirn pro bono, and he said, “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”

He then refused to answer any questions about his representation of Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.

Update: At the request of the commenter, the comment in question has been removed.

Here is Walden’s letter to Streetsblog (you can click to enlarge).

  • DNS

    Behind bad judgment — and there’s a lot of it here, among those opposed to the bike lane — there often lurks an unjustified sense of entitlement. Sounds to me like Schumer et al. need to do some serious soul-searching.

  • Chris

    @Suzanne – it’s newsworthy, but the news sources in this city don’t report on real news. Forget objectivity and deep research of facts.

  • DNS

    From the Gibson Dunn website detailing Mr. Walden’s accomplishments:

    “Mr. Walden recently taught at the Rule of Law symposium, hosted by the U.S. State Department…. Focusing on issues of political and commercial corruption, Mr. Walden’s seminar taught students about international efforts to combat bribery, including through the enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by U.S. authorities.”

    I’m sure the irony is lost on him.
    http://www.gibsondunn.com/lawyers/jwalden

  • Mr. Spirn, Mr. Walden, and the law firm Gibson Dunn, want to destroy Park Slope and the only rational response would be to boycott all of their businesses.

    If they have a problem with me expressing that opinion, please have them contact me directly.

  • I generally stay out of the comments section of blogs (Lew Fidler seems to be the only Councilmember brave enough to tread in this domain), but this chain was brought to my attention, and I thought it merited chiming in.

    It is no secret that I am a strong supporter of the PPW bike lane (if you haven’t done so already, check out the Op Ed I have in support of the lane in today’s Brooklyn Paper). While the controversy remains, the real argument is over. Safety data, public opinion, and public process all support the lane. As I said there, I hope that opponents won’t bring a lawsuit that wastes time & money, and could delay further safety improvements DOT is proposing, like the installation of raised pedestrian safety islands or sign and signals that better clarify bikers need to yield to pedestrians.

    That said, I truly believe that personal attacks, threats of boycotts, and casting aspersions on people’s motives are not right, nor do they serve any purpose here.

    While it’s clear that most neighborhood residents support the lanes, there are plenty (hundreds, at least) who don’t. Many have put years of civic energy into making Park Slope a better place. In my experience they are generally acting based on concern for their neighborhood, and their opinion about what’s best for it. I disagree with them on this … but I respect their motives, their opinions, and their concern for the community. They are unhappy with me about it, but I am grateful that they have not attacked me personally for my opinion.

    Mr. Spirn is entitled to his opinion, to join NBBL, and to talk to Marcia Kramer, without being accused of not caring about his neighborhood, or threatened (even in jest) with a boycott. I don’t think its libel, but I also don’t think its neighborly, or helps promote civil debate.

    I was very pleased to see that the original commenter in question reached out to Streetsblog and asked that the comment be removed. Streetsblog serves as a vital communication organ for the livable streets advocacy community, and it is good to see its commenters self-police in favor of civil debate. Its a good metaphor for the cycling community, and organizations like TA, working hard to encourage cyclists to follow the rules of road, not to be jerks, and to try to be good citizens of our streets.

  • Winston Smith

    Steven Spirn is working through the proper civic channels to improve his neighborhood.

    Jim Walden is a talented lawyer who is gives every case his all.

    Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes want better bike lanes.

    I have won the victory over myself. I love Iris Weinshall.

  • Chris

    But Brad, the commenter request removal after the sabre-rattling letter claiming “potential libelous”

    If that doesn’t stink I don’t know what does.

  • David

    Douché!

  • Glenn

    I’m not sure taking the comment down at the point of a legal threat is a cause to celebrate a return to civility. A REAL return to civility would probably be much likely if all parties respected the process involved. NBBL don’t seem to respect the process and are attempting an end run around it.

  • norwoodcitizen

    If I owned a nearby bicycle shop, couldn’t I use this same “logic” to make a libel claim against NBBL?

    They continue to make false claims against the product offered for sale, and their attempts to destroy the infrastructure necessary to use the product offered for sale “certainly could cause actual damage to [the] business.”

    You have to wonder if their jaws get sore working so hard to talk out of both sides of their mouth!

  • “Mr. Spirn is entitled to his opinion, to join NBBL, and to talk to Marcia Kramer, without being accused of not caring about his neighborhood, or threatened (even in jest) with a boycott.”

    No, he isn’t. There are lawyers involved so I have to assume we’re talking about the law, and Mr. Spirn is entitled to no such thing. If he would like to be judged by some other standard than the law he should not have engaged lawyers. And boycotts–in what sense are these illegal, or even frowned upon? They launched the civil rights movement, for goodness sake. Now “jesting” about boycotts is supposed to be beyond the pale?

    I hope Spirn and other parties to this discussion have learned that their underhanded efforts to suppress opinion can only backfire. It’s my opinion that anyone employing lawyers to erase discussion among citizens about an issue of importance to a neighborhood is indeed trying to ruin that neighborhood. It’s pretty unlikely that I would ever need his services, but I would certainly look elsewhere if I did.

  • 15 minutes of douche fame

    Man, that Jim Walden is one tragic-looking dolicocephalic Mayan stone head, with his weaselly little bucktoothed simper and that sad little mangy tuft up top. Do not let him procreate – not that that’s much of a risk. Yee.

    Hey, is that libelous?

  • rumpole

    These kinds of letters are stupid, but you have to read them carefully. “Potentially libelous” is not the same as saying “these remarks are libel. Cease and desist immediately.” It’s a small difference, but a potentially significant one. (Catch that? 🙂

    And I’m not seeing the defamation. It was an expression of opinion.

    Even assuming it is libel, he site should take a look at section 230 of the federal communications decency act. The short version: blogs are not responsible for defamation by their commenters.

  • Chris

    it was libelous to the Mayan stone head!

  • mary

    Wow. Is no one listening to Councilmember Lander? The folks who posted after him are just underlining what he’s trying to get at. I don’t live in park slope and I really have no opinion about that bike lane. But I do know this – after reading the comments, no wonder Councilmember Lander felt the need to chime in – so much nasty personal stuff. Boycott somebody for simply expressing his opinion? Really? You know, this isn’t a debate over the war in Afghanistan or anything –

    You are not helping yourselves when you act like impulsive children. I even saw a comment wishing someone (can’t remember his name) has a donut-induced heart attack. Even if it’s supposed to be a joke, it’s not funny.

    I have friends in Park Slope who really had no opinion on this whole thing either – until they started reading these comments. Guess what? The incredibly nasty comments made them doubt your motives and it moved them to the other side of the debate.

    I, for one, will never come back to this site. And, of course, as soon as I leave this comment, someone will start with the nasty and snide comments – that I’ll never read.

  • @Mary: I know, I know, you’re not reading. For a lot of people posting here, the issue transcended a bike lane the minute somebody hired a lawyer to try to scare people away from expressing their opinions. The question became “can some one lawyer up to shut you up?” To me, that’s imply bigger than any bike lane.

    In trying to defuse tension and ease the rhetoric, the councilman is doing his job. I’m a little confused about why people take such umbrage at the notion of boycotting businesses owned by people who you feel are acting outside of a community’s best interests. Boycotts seem to me to be a perfectly civil and fair way of working out these issues. Were some one suggesting violence or vandalism, I’d be on your side. But the principle behind a boycott is as fair as the free market gets. You encourage some one with commercial interests to consider another view.

  • James Franco

    what a snooze.

  • John

    “The real libel going on right now is the non-stop public flogging of our Transportation Commish, JSK.”

    Public flogging? I think Janette Sadik-Khan is great, and that’s the impression I get from media stories, like the New York magazine story.

  • the popo

    guys, its sunny out right now. stop whining and go for a bike ride.

  • Donnie Jeffcoat

    “The real libel going on right now is the non-stop public flogging of our Transportation Commish, JSK.”

    Janette’s going to be just fine. She’s received praise from many sources, is vastly more well-known than any of her successors, and because of her elevated profile and successful track record, she will always have a pretty well-paying job. That’s more than many Americans can say for their work situation since 2007. I am sure she’s flattered by your undying support, but seriously now, the Bloomberg appointee is going to be just fine.

  • NattyB

    @John,

    re: JSK Public Flogging.

    A lot of people read NY Magazine. But many more read the NY Post and the NYDN. Together, those two newspapers are read by more people then only the WSJ and USA today.

    Their editorial policies influence how people, topics, and issues get reported on and framed. And these two newspaper keep putting out article after article, and editorial after editorial, that are utterly (a) full of shit; and (b) leave an impression that bike lanes are (i) expensive; (ii) ubiquitous; (iii)unjustly stealing space from cars without providng context that in NYC, and especially Manhattan, it’s the cars that have been stealing space for way too long from the non-car owning residents who are also pedestrians and bikers.

    And now some assbag is threatening libel against an anonymous blog comment? Who the f— are these people!?!?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2010/12/06/2010-12-06_pedal_pusher.html
    http://articles.nydailynews.com/2011-02-06/news/28534810_1_bike-lane-community-board-traffic-by-concrete-barriers
    http://articles.nydailynews.com/2010-12-11/news/27083983_1_bike-lanes-bike-lane-facts-and-figures
    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/wrath_of_khan_kelly_taking_heat_VCsKax3gAGNB2RQImdDFMP
    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/debacle_on_th_st_Hvdbi0H8UlIWOnqCfbM7BI
    http://naparstek.com/2011/01/responding-to-the-new-york-posts-crappy-bike-coverage/

  • I even saw a comment wishing someone (can’t remember his name) has a donut-induced heart attack.

    Why do I not believe you when you say you can’t remember his name?

  • Jim Walden is trying to destroy our legal system and we should boycott his “business”.

  • Walden, how much more damage are you going to do to your career?

    All that lawyer school, and still no smarts!

  • Walden’s letter has brought more attention to poor Mr. Spirn than the original, long-forgotten comment or CBS story. Nice job, Jim! Way to serve your client!

  • commenter #6

    @Brad Lander

    I appreciate your position as listener and mediator – you have been a sensible voice in this debate. But I don’t think “personal ‘attacks,’ threats of boycott, or casting aspersions” in some blog comments is really a big deal. As blog comments go, particularly on this issue, the comments here are pretty tame, and often thoughtful and substantive (compared to say, Gothamist or Curbed). NBBL closed their Facebook group to public membership or open comments. But then every public audience they are given, NBBL members spout misinformation and messages of fearmongering. NBBL even sent out that press release claiming Councilmembers Quinn and Vacca support a bike lane moratorium, which is absolutely untrue. Marty Markowitz appeared on a Marcia Kramer segment accusing the DOT of lying and manipulating data. And here Spirn is having Walden send threatening legal letters to Streetsblog. So when it comes to ethics I don’t think a handful of unmoderated stray blog comments in an open forum even pale in comparison to the actions of the opposition. People have a right to be angry about what is going on here with these figures and their media manipulations and legal threats and this is one of the few forums people of the same mind have to express themselves. Unfortunate, yes, that it has to get personal but it really is no surprise at all given the circumstances.

  • J

    Commenter #6,

    Well said. While I agree that we should aim for the high road, the opposition has clearly and consistently taken the low road. A few over-the-top blog comments simply cannot negate the years of thoughtful public debate, reams of evidence, and patient defense of this project.

  • Can Brad Lander chime in on all those nasty comments threatening violence against cyclists that come up every time the Post or Marcia or whoever continues to give coverage of this corruption? NBBL and NYPD are both stirring the pot and making these streets deadly, if online comments are taken so seriously.

  • dporpentine

    I know that Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden (“4 ltr namz r vry hrd 2 spel”) and Steven Spirn, LCSW (“Threatening a media outlet: a sure-fire way to make sure I’m indisputably a public figure”) have ensured Google immortality for themselves already, but why not take it that final step and submit their letter to chillingeffects.org? I think Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden, LCSW and Steven Spirn, LCSW would appreciate that. And, no, of course I’m not Google-baiting the names of Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden and Steven Spirn, LCSW by repeating them in full every time.

  • dporpentine

    And Gibson Dunn lawyer Jim Walden should thank me for making him an honorary LCSW.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muphry%27s_law

  • myob1776

    Why is Walden smiling? Maybe it’s because Gibson Dunn just announced a record-breaking year, with AVERAGE profits-per-partner of more than $2.3 million.

    http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2011/02/al100gibsondunn2011.html

    Given that Walden appears to be rolling in the stuff, it’s perfectly understandable that he’d want to enlist his firm in providing pro-bono assistance to the overprivileged to help remove this scourge of a bike lane from their tony neighborhood. As Gibson Dunn’s own website puts it, the firm strives to “give back to the communities that have been such a part of our success.”

  • Joe R.

    @Brad Lander,

    I hope you’re still following this comment string. Thanks first of all for being a voice of reason in all this. Second, I hope you take most of these comments for what they are-people venting after a very rough year of dealing with virtually nonstop attacks on something they enjoy doing. How might you feel if a hobby or other activity you enjoyed was under constant, irrational attacks by people who probably never even tried it? Taking the high road only works for so long. Even worse is with some of these people there is just no reasoning with them. You try and have an intelligent discussion, showing them why they’re wrong, and in the end it degenerates into name-calling on their part. This happened to me just today over at the NY Post. Bottom line is it gets frustrating dealing with irrational people who want what they want, won’t accept change. If some come to this site knowing they can vent their frustration, then why hold them to task for it? And as for nasty comments, what you see here is nothing compared to over at the NYP. For example, after that cyclist was beat up by the police, a commenter chimed in that this is what the NYPD should do to all sidewalk riders. If we’re going to censure comments, then we should do so for both sides.

  • Internet comment boards may be one of the last bastions of free speech in NYC. Take this away and things are going to get nastier in real life.

    As if all this preventable death and dismemberment in the streets, with paltry justice for victims and little punishment for perpetrators, was not nasty enough.

  • King Vladimir

    yeah. totally boycott Steve Spirn. But I read he is a psycho therapist? NIMBYers are probably his number one client anyway…..

  • David

    People are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Walden isnt threatening a suit against anyone; he just “requests” that the post be removed. Frankly it is a bit heavy handed but it isnt exactly an abuse of process.

  • Rick

    This is Gibson Dunn, the law firm Jim Walden works for:

    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_12/b4220056636512.htm

  • Thanks first of all for being a voice of reason in all this. Second, I hope you take most of these comments for what they are-people venting after a very rough year of dealing with virtually nonstop attacks on something they enjoy doing.

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  • i don’t see the point of that, in general.

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  • new bike

    trying to defuse tension and ease the rhetoric,

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