On Friday, we wrote about the bad reporting concerning Nick Sandmann’s settlement with the Washington Post, that nearly every knowledgeable lawyer figures was likely for “nuisance value” to get rid of the lawsuit. We noted that the NY Post’s coverage of it misleadingly suggested that the kid got many millions of dollars, when there’s no evidence to support that conclusion, and plenty to suggest he got very little. If you want a thorough debunking of “the kid got paid” narrative, this thread by @RespectableLawyer lays out the details. As we had noted in our post, the court had already rejected nearly all of the claims in the case, and only allowed it to be reinstated to allow for very narrow discovery on very narrow issues which Sandmann almost certainly would not have won on. There was basically no chance Sandmann would win the case. So, a nuisance fee settlement makes it worthwhile to everyone. The paper gets out of the case for less than the cost of going through discovery and the whole summary judgment process, and Sandmann gets to say he got paid, without ever saying how little.
So even assuming Sandmann could clear each impossible hurdle, he would only be able to recover actual damages. And discovery would likely prove Sandmann had little to none. By all indications, he is doing ok, and in fact has become a beloved micro-celebrity in MAGA world.
— Respectable Lawyer (@RespectableLaw) July 27, 2020
However, on Monday, Sandmann’s lawyer, L. Lin Wood (who you may recall from his ability to lose one of the rare defamation cases that I thought actually had a chance to succeed, against Elon Musk) completely lost his shit on Twitter because enough people were calling out the fact that Sandmann most likely got peanuts, which destroyed the narrative Wood has been trying to sell. Wood, who apparently is now a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory based on his willingness to include the #WWG1WGA tag in his Twitter profile (if you’re not familiar, it stands for the silly QAnon phrase: “where we go one, we go all”), has apparently decided that merely speculating on the settlement amounts violates agreements people were not a party to.
Either way, Wood started threatening people and CNN. In separate tweets he accused both Brian Stelter (an on-air CNN personality) and Asha Rangappa (a lawyer and law professor who sometimes appears on CNN) for “speculating” on the settlement between Sandmann and the Washington Post. He even said that if Stelter isn’t fired, he’ll sue CNN.
Wood is arguing that CNN on air talent is violating a confidentiality agreement that was part of the settlement in a different case (CNN settled a similar case with Sandmann, likely on similar terms, back in January, at which point we wrote about similarly misleading reporting regarding the settlement). With Stelter, he’s arguing that merely retweeting a lawyer suggesting that the most likely outcome of the Washington Post case was a nuisance fee settlement is a violation of that confidentiality agreement. With Rangappa, it’s her own speculation.
First off, neither Stelter nor Rangappa are even remotely connected to the Washington Post settlement, so they’re not parties to the case and clearly are not restricted by any confidentiality agreement and are free to speculate (or in Stelter’s case, to retweet someone else’s speculation) of the Washington Post settlement. The only way there might be a tiny (extremely weak) argument is if they were employed by the Washington Post. But even then they would have no actual insight into the actual settlement terms or amounts, and speculating is not violating a confidentiality settlement when they have no awareness of the terms. But to say that CNN employees are somehow violating the confidentiality agreement in a separate case for speculating on a different case is… just wacky nonsense.
Of course, many lawyers who understand this stuff pointed out that Wood freaking out that it violates confidentiality agreements to say that he settled the Sandmann cases for nuisance value… certainly seems to suggest that Wood is effectively confirming that it’s true. Of course, after a bunch of people started to say that, he started insisting that his problem is with “false speculation” violating confidentiality agreements, but that makes no sense. That’s like when the White House tries to argue that a leak of classified information is false. If it’s false, it’s not classified info. Claiming it’s a leak confirms it’s accurate.
Here, if anyone is violating a confidentiality agreement (which, again, they are not) it would be in revealing information to that is covered by the agreement. Speculating — and even more bizarrely — speculating falsely, is unlikely to be much of a violation. At best, Wood might be able to argue that there’s some sort of total gag order that came with the settlements saying that CNN/WaPo and staff won’t ever discuss anything having to do with Nick Sandmann and his sketchy lawsuits. I’d be surprised if either company agreed to such things, but it’s not crazy, and the insurance companies backing CNN might have even been willing to agree to such nonsense terms.
But that’s still not going to do very much here. There’s no way on-air talent was privy to any of the details, and it’s hard to see how a gag order would extend to them.
Also, it kind of makes you wonder why Wood would be so insistent on this here. If he really pressured CNN into agreeing to such a total gag order, why would he do that unless it’s to hide a terribly tiny settlement for his client? If he actually won big money for Sandmann, he’d be excited about it, not negotiating for CNN to keep the details quiet. And why would he be so angry about anyone talking about the details of the settlement unless he didn’t want people speculating on how little he was actually able to secure?
The whole Twitter freak out did his own client a huge disservice, and filing any followup lawsuits will likely only serve to harm his client even more.