Last month, longtime Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz was named by a woman as one of several men with whom she allegedly had sex as a minor. Three dozen Harvard Law School professors rallied to the defense of their emeritus colleague, releasing the statement below:
We have each known Alan Dershowitz as a colleague and friend, some of us for several decades. In our experience he has always been not only an excellent and committed teacher, but also a highly talented and honorable advocate, and a fearless public intellectual. The cost of his defending the despised, and attacking the views of important people, is displayed on his office door in the form of constant hate mail and personal attacks in the media. That has never discouraged or redirected his advocacy. It would be a great loss to our national dialogue if people reacted to attacks with less courage.
Responding to highly destructive and highly publicized allegations requires finding a forum that can credibly resolve the disputed facts. In this regard, as law professors, we are particularly troubled by the legal setting in which the recent attacks against Professor Dershowitz were made. The accusations were brought in the context of a pleading in a case in which he has no authorized role. In legal parlance, he is simply not “a party” and arguably lacks the “standing” to dispute the allegations in that lawsuit to prove them false. Moreover, because the law of defamation generally prevents individuals from suing for damages from statements another party has made in court documents, Professor Dershowitz may not be able to use that forum to challenge their content. He has, in short, been accused in a setting seemingly designed to deny him any effective opportunity to respond.
Were the accusations made against an individual less courageous and less outspoken, the impact of the accusation would be devastating. The courts should not be used to make such attacks while preventing any effective response.