Tuesday, January 1, 2008

O'Malley's Curious Claim

In recent years, Sharad Karkhanis has mocked PSC head Barbara Bowen as the “Dear Leader.” The details of former UFS chair/PSC executive committee member Susan O’Malley’s complaint against Karkhanis (in a case that O’Malley herself has termed “very, very silly”) suggests that absolutist tendencies aren’t confined to the union’s leader.

Indeed, the complaint is chilling, essentially suggesting that expressing skepticism about the PSC/UFS leadership’s motives—even in the context of election campaigns—constitutes grounds for a defamation suit.

Portions of O’Malley’s complaint—penned by entertainment attorney Joseph Martin Carasso—appear to be based on the premise that the court system should be used not to redress grievances but to bolster a client’s self-esteem.

Carasso tells the court that:

  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY is a distinguished scholar and teacher”;
  • O’Malley “has many friends and associates among her fellow faculty”;
  • O’Malley “has served with distinction in various CUNY university and governance roles”
  • His client received a UFS resolution honoring “her great humanity and her intelligence, and acclaiming SUSAN O’MALLEY as a worthy and eminent leader.”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY worked hard for her achievements”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY’S life has been devoted to teaching, scholarly research, and governance at KCC and CUNY.”
  • “SUSAN O’MALLEY had a distinguished career as a scholar and teacher, and has made outstanding contributions to university governance and to the Faculty Staff Union.”

Is it O’Malley’s belief that to publicly challenge any of these cozy descriptions of herself constitutes defamation?

Perhaps because his background is in the entertainment world—where shameless flattery is the order of the day—rather than libel law, Carasso went overboard, and in the process appears to have fatally undermined his client’s already feeble case. Included in Carasso’s paeans to O’Malley is this highly revealing clause:

SUSAN O’MALLEY has acquired and retained a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community for her advocacy of high academic standards and accessibility of higher education, her humanity and intelligence. [emphasis added]

O’Malley’s entire lawsuit is based on a claim that Karkhanis’ allegedly defamatory attacks have ruined her reputation. Yet here is her own attorney affirming—under, he writes, penalty of perjury—that O’Malley retains “a high standing and reputation among the CUNY academic community.”

So what, exactly, is her case?

No wonder O’Malley has termed her action a “very, very silly” lawsuit.


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