When three Yale Law School students were targeted by sexually explicit and derogatory posts in the online legal chatroom AutoAdmit in 2005, two of them took their case to court. Now the people they sued are firing back.
Anthony Ciolli, a former AutoAdmit director, filed a lawsuit against those two students and their lawyers on Tuesday in a Philadelphia state court, seeking at least $50,000 in damages for abuse of process, libel and false light that he alleges cost him a job offer at a Boston law firm.
Ciolli was originally named a defendant in the students’ suit, filed last June in a federal court in New Haven. But he was dropped from the suit in November when the plaintiffs decided to focus on pursuing the 39 authors of the allegedly defamatory posts.
Ciolli declined to comment Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, in the original suit, one of the unnamed defendants — whose identities are still unknown — moved last week to quash the subpoenas a federal judge issued to their Internet service providers in January in the hopes of unmasking them. That motion is still pending.
Ciolli’s lawsuit contends that he was improperly sued for those comments when he was not liable for them, said his attorney, Mark Jakubik.
“This case is not about defending or exonerating anyone for the absolutely reprehensible comments that were made about the female law students on AutoAdmit,” Jakubik said. “It’s about what are the appropriate boundaries for seeking redress for those comments, and we think those boundaries were crossed to Anthony’s great detriment.”
Marc Randazza, who represented Ciolli when he was still a defendant in the Connecticut suit, said while everyone can agree the targeted students were wronged, suing Ciolli was not the proper legal remedy.
“It exceeded the boundary of what the law is there for,” he said.
Federal law immunizes Web site administrators from liability for content posted by others, Daniel Solove LAW ’97 — a law professor at The George Washington University and author of “The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet” — wrote in an e-mail to the News.
David Rosen LAW ’69, an attorney for the Yale students and now a defendant in Ciolli’s suit, could not be reached for comment Wednesday because he is out of the country. Mark Lemley, the other attorney-turned-defendant, also could not be reached for comment. The two law students did not reply to e-mails.
Both wrongful initiation and libel claims are typically very hard to win, said Robert Post LAW ’77, a professor at Yale Law School. A very stringent test applies to proving that any harm the plaintiff sustained was a direct consequence of being sued, he said.
But people who allege they have been libeled or wrongfully prosecuted often sue as a way of vindicating their reputation by demonstrating they believe in their innocence, whether they win or not in the end, he said
Ciolli, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in May 2007, worked at Edwards, Angell, Palmer & Dodge in the summer of 2006 and had been offered a full-time job there after graduation, according to the complaint he filed.
But in late March 2007, the firm’s hiring partner called him about several accusations leveled against Ciolli related to the AutoAdmit case, such as that Ciolli was responsible for starting a Web site that ranked the physical appearance of female law students at the nation’s top 14 law schools. The complaint denies Ciolli had any involvement with that site. The following month, the firm rescinded his job offer, the suit says.
The complaint alleges that the law students and their lawyers wrongfully initiated civil proceeding against Ciolli, that the students and a Web site they solicited to help restore their reputations libeled and slandered him and that the publicity they directed toward him placed him in a false light, with the result that he lost his job offer.
The two law students, who were anonymous as the plaintiffs in the Connecticut suit, were named in the Pennsylvania case.
“There was no real big secret about who they were,” Randazza said.
Unlike the original suit, Ciolli’s complaint contains nothing that would be considered scandalous or would justify withholding the students’ names, Jakubik said.
“When folks engage in the kind of conduct that is outlined in the complaint, I’m not sure they should be given the cloak of anonymity,” he said.