Bogus "Anti-Quackbuster" Suit Withdrawn:
Why I am Suing the Lawyer Who Filed It

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

A bogus lawsuit intended to harass and intimidate me and other critics of Hulda Clark has been withdrawn. The suit, filed by Attorney Carlos Negrete in July 2001, charged me, my wife, the National Council Against Health Fraud, and about 30 other defendants with committing at least 20 civil wrongs and 12 crimes, including racketeering. The other defendants included Quackwatch; several Web site operators who have (justifiably) criticized Hulda Clark's theories and methods; the Internet Service Provider who hosts the healthfraud discussion list; several people who have posted messages to news groups; a woman and her husband who sued Clark for fraud; three people who had filed expert declarations in a case in which the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained an injunction against a company marketing devices and herbs with claims based on Clark's theories; and "Roes 1-500." None of the suit's accusations against any of us were valid.

Clark is an unlicensed naturopath with a mail-order "degree" who claims to cure cancer with a low-voltage electrical device [1]. She appears to have hired Tim Bolen to libel and harass her critics [2].The "racketeering" suit was filed as a cross-complaint in response to the libel suit I filed against Clark, her publishing company, Bolen, and several of her associates [3]. A few months later, Negrete filed a second nearly identical cross-complaint against me in connection with an unrelated consumer-protection suit [4] in which I was an expert witness against a company accused of false advertising.

Negrete, whose office is in San Juan Capistrano, California, indicated on the first page of the suit documents that he was doing business under the name Health Freedom Legal Defense Council. Although California law requires that fictitious names be registered, my search of the Orange County fictitious name database located no listing.

Defamation Packaged as News

After the first cross-complaint was filed, Tim Bolen distributed a message headlined "Stephen Barrett Charged with Racketeering, and Civil Rights Violations, in California." The World Chiropractic Alliance (WCA) then published a news article called "Quack Buster Busted," accompanied with my picture overprinted with the words "Stephen Barrett, who now faces a lawsuit for 'racketeering.'" [5] In addition, an article about the suit with my picture was published on the front page of The Chiropractic Journal, a newspaper published by WCA president Terry Rondberg, D.C. Accusations of this type would normally be sufficient to enable the poster to be sued into oblivion. But since the filing of the suit was a "news event," its contents could be reported as "news" without risk to the reporter.

A few days later, Bolen issued another message which suggested why the suit was filed:

The lawsuit . . . is going to be VERY EXPENSIVE for them—all of a sudden. I'm not an attorney, but still I'm going to estimate that their case will cost them somewhere around $750,000 to $2,000.000 in legal fees. Even the small defendants are going to have to cough up $100,000 in fees, apiece [6].

A few weeks later, word of the suit was widely distributed through the e-mail newsletter of Tedd Koren, D.C., a chiropractic publisher whom the FTC had investigated [7]. Koren, who had mistakenly assumed that I had been involved in the investigation, mentioned that an attorney who had defended him belonged to the Health Freedom Legal Defense Council and that he (Koren) had been told about the lawsuit about a year before it was filed [8].

The two cross-complaints were remarkable in that they did not allege a single fact that supports any of the charges. Although every defendant was accused of committing every one of the alleged wrongs, the documents did not identify a single specific act that was improper. Without this information, courts normally dismiss a suit for failing to state a cause of action or order the attorney to make some actual allegations. In both cases, we filed motions to dismiss and award attorneys fees. In the suit against Clark, Negrete responded by dropping all but two of the charges against me, but the judge said that he could conduct discovery proceedings related to these two. In the other case, the judge dismissed the cross-complaint and awarded $3,000 in attorneys fees. The FTC also filed a motion to dismiss its former expert witnesses. Negrete responded by dropping them from the case.

The suit against my wife (a family physician) was done purely for harassment purposes. She was not a member of Quackwatch, and her only involvement in antiquackery activity is to answer medical questions when I need help and to provide me with journal articles she thinks might interest me. She was not involved in any way in my criticism of Hulda Clark. Even though she submitted an affidavit stating these facts, Negrete would not drop her from the suit and even tried (unsuccessfully) to force both of us to travel to California for depositions. In May 2002, I filed discovery requests in the Clark suit which demanded that Negrete reveal precisely what alleged facts could support the charges he made in the cross-complaints. When he refused, we filed motions to compel him to do so. In June, rather than face the judge and admit that the suit was bogus, he withdrew it.

Negrete did three other things to attack my reputation. One was to post the cross-complaint to his Web site. The second was to link to Bolen's Web site, which is filled with false and defamatory statements about me. The third was to refer to me in the body of the suit as "a de-licensed psychiatrist" with a small-print footnote stating "Dr. Barrett is no longer licensed. He voluntarily abandoned his license in the early 1990s." In everyday language, delicensing refers to having one's license taken away for misconduct. Negrete is well aware of the fact that I retired in good standing and merely inactivated my license. It is no more proper to refer to me as "de-licensed" than to refer to an attorney who retired as "disbarred." The primary and most persistent libel spread by Bolen and his allies has been the statement that I am delicensed, which causes some people to conclude that I lost my license for misconduct. Negrete reinforced this idea by using the word in the body of the cross-complaint. Not surprisingly, several reports on the suit repeated the word without the footnote.

The false charges from Negrete's cross-complaints have been mentioned on more than 50 Web sites and in more than 100 newsgroup messages. To this day, the "racketeering" suit document remains on his Web site despite several requests from me that it be removed. My wife and I and several of the other victims of his spurious cross-complaint also asked the California Bar to discipline him, but our request was denied without explanation.

Curious Ethics

Negrete seems to be so intent on attacking me that he has placed one of his former clients at risk. For more than three years, his home page has stated:

Longtime critic and foe of alternative medicine, Stephen Barrett, M.D., has asked the Court in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, to dismiss the libel lawsuit that he filed against [the doctor]. The lawsuit stemmed from allegations that Barrett was defamed by internet postings by Tim Bolen. Barrett alleged that Dr. [name] was responsible for defamation and "damage to reputation" because he had posted Tim Bolen's editorial and opinion comments on [his Web site]. Soon after the lawsuit was filed, Dr. [name] engaged the LAW OFFICES OF CARLOS F. NEGRETE along with THE HEALTH FREEDOM LEGAL DEFENSE COUNCIL to act as his lead attorneys in the defense of the case. Along with local Pennsylvania counsel, Dr. [name] filed objections to Barrett's lawsuit. The hearing on the objections was set for June 26, 2001. The dismissal was announced only one day prior to the Court hearing. Barrett's counsel had submitted the request for dismissal a few days prior to the disclosure.

I believe that the above statement is misleading because it suggests that (a) my suit had no merit, (b) I lost the case, and (c) the loss had something to do with Negrete's brilliant efforts. None of these interpretations would be correct. In 2000, I sued a doctor in who had posted a libelous article about me written by Bolen. I filed in Pennsylvania because it was convenient for me to do so. However, when I later learned that it is more practical to file where the defendant resides, I withdrew the Pennsylvania suit and refiled it in the doctor's home state. After the doctor realized how Bolen had misled him, we reached a friendly settlement that included a retraction and substantial payment from his insurance company. As part of the settlement, I agreed to remove the suit document from Quackwatch and not to mention the doctor's name if I wrote about the suit or the settlement. I did this because he was afraid that publicizing the suit could hurt his reputation. I have scrupulously honored our agreement and even asked others to delete mention of his name if they report about the settlement. Negrete's Web site, however, still has the above statement plus several documents from the case posted—even though his former client has asked him to remove them!

My Malicious Prosecution Suit

In December 2002, I sued Negrete and Clark for malicious prosecution [9]. In California, malicious prosecution has three elements. The plaintiff must establish that the original suit (1) was commenced by or at the direction of the defendant and was pursued to a legal termination in the plaintiffs favor; (2) was brought without probable cause; and (3) was initiated with malice. The trial court judge ruled that the suit met these standards but not had presented enough information to conclude that Negrete knowingly and deliberately filed the suit without any grounds. While the judge's ruling was pending, Clark admitted during a deposition in my libel suit against her that she knew of no criminal acts that I had committed. However, the judge concluded that this information was not properly offered to the Court and therefore would not be considered. Believing that this was unfair, I filed an appeal.

I am pleased to report that the trial court's ruling was overturned on appeal. In March 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals concluded:

When called on to put up or shut up, they shut up—Negrete and Clark voluntarily dismissed their cross-complaint rather than respond to Barrett's discovery requests for the proof of their allegations. This creates a strong inference that Negrete and Clark lacked probable cause for their accusations.

and:

The scurrilous nature of the defendants' allegations of wrongdoing and their efforts to publicize them widely on the Internet, when coupled with their utter failure to offer any proof of their charges, gives rise to a compelling inference of malice [10].

We now can proceed with discovery to flush out the full details of Negrete's outrageous conduct.

References

  1. Barrett et al vs Clark et al. Verified complaint for damages for libel, libel per se, and conspiracy to commit libel. Superior Court of the State of California, County of Alameda. Filed Nov 3, 2000.
  2. Barrett S. The bizarre claims of Hulda Clark. Quackwatch, revised Dec 29, 2001.
  3. Barrett S. A response to Tim Bolen. Quackwatch, revised June 8, 2002.
  4. Barrett S. "Enzyme deficiency." Quackwatch, Aug 31, 2001.
  5. "Quack buster busted." Healthwatch Newsletter, Aug 6, 2001.
  6. Bolen T. Smoking out Barrett's paymaster. July 26, 2001.
  7. Barrett S. FTC drops chiropractic investigation, Chirobase, revised Dec 25, 2001.
  8. Koren T. Tedd Koren's August 2001 Newsletter.
  9. Stephen Barrett, M.D., v. Carlos P. Negrete, Hulda Clark, DBA New Century Press, and Does 1-10. U.S. District Court for the District of California, Southern District, Western Division, filed December 2002.
  10. Memorandum. Stephen J. Barrett, M.D. v. Carlos F. Negrete et al. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit No 04-55193, Filed March 14, 2005.

This article was revised on March 18, 2005.

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