Trial Date Set for October in 'Lott v. Levitt'

May 02, 2007

The economist Steven D. Levitt’s colleagues at the University of Chicago might be tempted to cancel their classes and wander down to Chicago’s federal courthouse on October 1. That’s the date that has been set for the trial in John R. Lott Jr.’s defamation suit against Mr. Levitt. At a status hearing on Wednesday, a federal judge penciled in the trial date and ordered the parties to complete their discovery process by the end of July.

Just over a year ago, Mr. Lott, who is now a visiting professor of economics at the State University of New York at Binghamton, sued Mr. Levitt, contending, among other things, that the Chicago scholar had, in his best-selling book Freakonomics and in a private e-mail message, smeared Mr. Lott’s research practices. In January the judge tossed out the count regarding Freakonomics, but allowed Mr. Lott to proceed with a claim that Mr. Levitt had maliciously lied about him in the e-mail message, which was sent to another economist in 2005.

Lawyers for Mr. Levitt suggested in their latest formal response to Mr. Lott’s complaint, which they filed with the court last week, that the e-mail message in question was substantially true. They also asserted that sending the message — which concerned a 2001 special issue of The Journal of Law and Economics — “did not in any way adversely affect Lott’s reputation.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Lott has launched another salvo outside the courtroom. Next month, Regnery Publishing will release his Freedomnomics: Why the Free Market Works and Other Half-Baked Theories Don’t. The book’s cover design echoes that of Freakonomics. (A version that circulated on booksellers’ Web sites earlier this year mimicked Mr. Levitt’s book even more closely, and was subtitled “Why the Free Market Works and Other Freaky Theories Don’t.”) —David Glenn