John Lott Seeks Gag Order in Defamation Lawsuit Against Steven Levitt

June 06, 2007

When John R. Lott Jr. filed a defamation lawsuit against his fellow economist Steven D. Levitt last year, he charged that in the best-selling book Freakonomics and elsewhere, Mr. Levitt had damaged Mr. Lott’s reputation “in the minds of hundreds of thousands of academics, college students, graduate students, and members of the general public.”

Now Mr. Lott appears to be worried that his lawsuit itself, which is scheduled to go to trial on October 1, might have the same effect.

In a motion filed last week in federal court, Mr. Lott’s lawyers asked the judge to place a gag order on any information that might turn up in depositions or private documents as the lawyers on both sides prepare for the trial.

The motion asserts that “publication or dissemination of information that is obtained during discovery, particularly if provided without context or explanation, could be extremely damaging to sales” of Mr. Lott’s new book, Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t. The book, which was released this week by Regnery Publishing, was written in part to rebut Mr. Levitt’s work.

In a reply filed on Monday, Mr. Levitt’s lawyers argue that such protective orders are appropriate only in cases that involve trade secrets or severe threats to personal privacy. “Lott ignores the primary fact that he is the one who has brought this libel suit, thereby placing his reputation and his past conduct directly at issue in this case,” they write. “He cannot now attempt to litigate this case in private and have this court hide his embarrassment.”

If Mr. Lott is concerned about leaks of information “without context or explanation,” they write, “he should simply release complete information with his interpretation of that information.”

(For what it’s worth, The Chronicle has never received any information about the case from Mr. Levitt, either directly or indirectly. Mr. Levitt has always declined our requests for interviews, and his lawyers have communicated with us only about prosaic points of law and civil procedure.)

The court has not yet ruled on Mr. Lott’s motion. —David Glenn