This is the first of two posts going up tonight. It involves a lawsuit and a Court Case.
First, the lawsuit. Last year, Brian Deer had a series of articles published in the British Medical Journal about the activities of Andrew Wakefield, the now disgraced and struck-off former gastroenterologist who originated the “MMR Vaccine causes Autism” Myth. Deer reported that Wakefield intended to set up various companies to profit from the scare he caused. Now, Wakefield has filed a libel suit in Texas against Deer and the BMJ.
The entire lawsuit is puzzling. The BMJ is a British magazine as evinced by its name. It is very likely that the Judge will dismiss the case as being outside his or her jurisdiction. In addition, libel is harder to prove in the US than in the UK. Wakefield brought a libel suit against Deer in the UK, only to drop it and pay Deer’s legal fees. Some of the commenters at Respectful Insolence have suggested that Wakefield is only doing this to keep himself in the public eye. After all, he didn’t appeal the verdict at his Fitness to Practice hearing, at which over 30 charges against him were found proven, nor did he appeal his striking off. Even his most ardent supporters are likely to start asking questions about why he didn’t.
There is another problem for Wakefield. Texas, in line with other US states, has introduced anti-SLAPP legislation. A SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) is an unmeritorious lawsuit filed with the intention of harassing a critic/opponent. Under the Texas anti-SLAPP legislation, a plaintiff shown to have filed a SLAPP will not only be forced to pay court costs and the defendants’ legal fees, but over and above that will be forced to pay compensation to all defendants sufficient to deter further such attempts. Given that Deer and the BMJ have pretty solid evidence, Wakefield would likely lose the case and face penalties for bringing a SLAPP.
The Court Case was a case about a murder. In 2010, Stephanie Rochester put a plastic bag over the head of her six month old son Rylan, then a blanket, and left him in his room to suffocate. She believed her child was autistic and didn’t want him to be a burden so she killed him. Earlier this week, the verdict was announced. Rochester has been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The verdict is deeply unsatisfactory to me. The Court did not allow a psychiatrist for the prosecution to examine Rochester. Secondly, Rochester was a mental health counsellor who worked with autistic children. Thirdly, after making sure Rylan was dead, she removed the blankets she’d used to suffocate him and put them in the cupboard. However, the Prosecution decided it would not be likely to show that Rochester was not insane in a trial, and decided not to proceed.
Stephanie Rochester will be held in a mental hospital until she is no longer a danger to herself or others.